Newsom sends his children back to school classrooms in California

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In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference at Cal Expo in Sacramento. | Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday his children have returned to in-person learning under a “phased-in approach” as many schools across the state remain shuttered due to Covid-19 — including nearly all public schools in Sacramento County where the governor lives.

The news: Newsom said at a news conference that his four children, ages 4 to 11, have returned to classrooms in some capacity.

Newsom’s children attend a private school in Sacramento County that has a hybrid schedule that alternates remote and in-person education before it will return full-time next month, according to a source. POLITICO is not naming the school for privacy reasons.

“They’re phasing back into school and we are phasing out of our very challenging distance learning that we’ve been doing, so many parents are doing up and down the state,” Newsom said Friday when asked about his own children’s education.

Sacramento County schools are allowed to open classrooms under Newsom’s reopening system. But the county’s large public school districts — including San Juan Unified, which serves Newsom’s neighborhood — have yet to do so. Some Sacramento County districts plan to reopen elementary schools next month, while San Juan has a January goal date. Sacramento City Unified has yet to propose a reopening date.

The reopening debate: This week, California assemblymembers demanded more specific action from Newsom and state officials on school reopening, emphasizing testing capacity. The ability to routinely test students and staff has been a sticking point for teachers across the state who say it’s not yet safe to reopen classrooms.

In 21 of the state’s 58 counties, all school districts are either offering some form of in-person instruction or planning to do so soon, according to an EdSource analysis released Friday.

Newsom pointed to $5.3 billion in state and federal funding for schools to respond to Covid-19 and two months worth of PPE given to districts by the state.

He reiterated his belief that schools need to open as soon as possible, citing academic and social-emotional concerns, but emphasized that the decisions remain up to local districts. The California Teachers Association has been adamant that schools are not yet safe to return to.

“We absolutely believe that the social-emotional learning that occurs in the classroom is the best place for our kids, certainly the best place for their parents as well. And so it is absolutely incumbent to do everything in our power to provide support to our districts so that they can safely reopen, emphasis on safely reopen,” Newsom said.

Newsom spoke Friday at the opening of a $25 million laboratory that will significantly increase the state’s Covid-19 testing capacity, which he said should help districts reopen schools. The lab, built in conjunction with diagnostics company PerkinElmer, will begin processing tests next month with a goal of 150,000 tests by March.

Political implications: The Newsom children’s return to school reinforces concerns from lawmakers that families who can afford private schools have a jumpstart, further widening the achievement gap. CTA this summer criticized the governor for allowing private schools to seek waivers to reopen — which nearly all private schools did.

The admission that his own children are back in classrooms could ramp up pressure on Newsom to do more to reopen schools. As each day goes by with low-income public school children struggling with distance learning, expect Newsom’s personal situation to become a high-profile example of the educational inequities during coronavirus.

What’s next: The pressure is on for the state to release more prescriptive guidelines for schools to reopen, as school reopening negotiations with teachers unions are held up by safety concerns and the state’s local control policy has created uneven plans for California’s six million K-12 students.

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