Newsom announces schools will stay closed in counties on state’s COVID-19 monitoring list

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Lake Elsinore Unified School District, like all California schools on the state of California’s monitoring list, has made the move to open the 2020-2021 school year online. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all school campuses Friday, July 17, to remain closed when the school year begins in counties on the state’s monitoring list due to spiking coronavirus cases – including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties.

The order means districts across Southern California will begin the new school year with distance-learning programs. The state’s two largest districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, had already announced plans to begin the new academic year with online-only courses.

Temecula and Murrieta’s school districts had not yet committed to an online-only start to the school year, but schools in Lake Elsinore and Menifee had already announced plans to utilize distance learning to start the year.

In light of Newsom’s announcement, Temecula Valley Unified issued an update stating that district staff will discuss the impacts of the governor’s decision at TVUSD’s next governing board meeting, July 21.

“TVUSD staff has been working diligently over the past couple of months to prepare for every outcome and phase of reopening, including online learning,” according to the announcement from TVUSD. “Because of this work, we will be able to offer our students a robust and rigorous online learning environment when we start school. Our online learning model will be vastly different from the emergency distance learning we quickly pivoted to in March when schools initially closed physically.”

Murrieta Valley Unified held its most recent board meeting in the morning, July 17, just before Newsom’s announcement.

While MVUSD did not reach a decision at that meeting on whether to move forward with traditional, virtual or hybrid learning models, a district official said a decision would be made by the end of the month.

“Action will be undertaken no later than July 29, 2020, by the board of education.” Patrick Kelley, the district’s superintendent, said.

Lake Elsinore Unified told parents at its July 16 board meeting that the district “is announcing our intention to reopen instruction on Aug. 12, in a full distance learning format.”

Menifee Union School District already announced Tuesday, July 14, that it intended to move forward with two options: traditional learning with “health enhancements” and an online-only option.

“The MUSD instructional team, supported by counselors and nurses, will teach and reinforce expectations for safety enhancements such as hand-washing, keeping individual supplies and maintaining personal space. Recess/lunches may be staggered and the use of face masks is determined by state requirements school citizenship lessons will promote safe and respectful behavior related to COVID-19 precautions,” according to MUSD’s website.

And Hemet Unified had also previously announced it would reopen in-person with “major health requirements” in place and an option for online learning.

Hemet and Menifee both were also set to reopen Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Hemet Unified schools would have opened with major health requirements in place for those students will return to the classrooms and an option for online learning, but of course, any previously existing plans for in-person learning are now up in the air.

On Friday, Springs Charter Schools announced they would not have students on campus to start the school year either.

“In light of recent statistics and concerns in California, we have decided to delay the return to site-based academy and learning center classrooms at least through September,” Kathleen Hermsmeyer, superintendent of Springs Charter Schools, said in a statement. “In mid-September, we will reevaluate opening our physical classrooms beginning in October.”

Newsom said school campuses will only be allowed to open in counties that have been off the state’s monitoring list for at least 14 days. Counties are placed on the monitoring list based on a variety of factors, including coronavirus transmission and fatality rates. As of Friday, 32 California counties were on the list.

Schools that are eventually allowed to reopen will have to meet a series of other requirements, including mandatory masks for staff and students in third-grade and above, physical distancing mandates and regular on-campus coronavirus testing. He also said distance-learning programs in closed schools must be “rigorous,” with daily student interaction.

“Learning in the state of California is simply non-negotiable,” Newsom said, but added, “Safety is foundational. Safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids.”

Under the guidelines announced by Newsom, in schools that are allowed to open, students and staff in individual classrooms will be sent home when a single case is confirmed. The entire school will be closed if cases are confirmed in multiple classrooms or if more than 5% of the school tests positive for the virus.

An entire district will be closed if 25% of its schools are closed in a 14-day period, he said.

Jeff Pack, Will Fritz, Tony Ault and Jeremiah Tatola contributed to this report.