Gov. Newsom: Schools must stay closed if county is on coronavirus watch list

Gov. Newsom: Schools must stay closed if county is on coronavirus watch list
Gov. Newsom speaks at press conference.

Schools located in counties that are on the state’s watchlist for concerning COVID-19 outbreaks must start the upcoming academic year with distance learning, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday. The mandate applies to both public and private schools.

A school cannot physically reopen until the county where it operates has been off the state’s watch list for 14 consecutive days, Newsom said. Otherwise the school must begin the school year this fall with distance learning.

Contra Costa County is among the 32 counties on the state’s watchlist as of Friday morning. West Contra Costa Unified had already planned to begin the year with distance learning and to reopen with a phased-in approach.

For schools that can reopen, guidelines are in place. If there is a positive case within a classroom cohort, that cohort must be required to go home and engage in distance learning, according to the state guidelines. If multiple classroom cohorts have confirmed cases, or if over 5 percent of the school tests positive, that school site must close. If 25 percent of schools within a district are forced to close within a 14 day period, that district will need to close.

For those schools that are able to reopen, the state has mandated that all staff and students from third grade and above wear masks, with students in 2nd grade or below encouraged to wear masks or face shields, Newsom said.

Staff must also maintain 6 feet of distance between each other and with students. Temperature checks, hand-washing stations and deep, frequent sanitation and disinfection protocols must also be in place. Schools must also have quarantine protocols.

The new rules also require regular COVID-19 testing of staff. 

Newsom said the state will provide funding to ensure schools engaged in distance learning have devices and connectivity for all their students. The guidelines require that schools doing distance learning engage in daily live interaction with teachers and other students and present education challenges that are equivalent to in-person classes, and that distance learning plans are adapted for English language learners and special education students.

For more details on the state’s reopening guidelines, click here.