School districts covering more than 70 per cent of California’s population are unlikely to reopen classrooms under new coronavirus guidelines issued by the state’s governor, raising another hurdle to a rebound in the US’s biggest regional economy.
Gavin Newsom, California governor, said schools would have to continue online classes when students return in the autumn unless their county is off a Covid-19 watchlist for two weeks; currently 32 of California’s 58 counties are on the monitoring list.
California has seen the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the US after New York, thanks in part to a recent spike in infections tied to the month-long outbreak in the American south and west.
The state recorded another 9,986 new cases on Friday, taking its total to more than 366,000. It also tallied another 130 fatalities over the previous 24 hours, the third straight day of more than 100 deaths. Texas reported a record one-day increase in coronavirus deaths with 174.
The announcement on Friday by Mr Newsom, a Democrat, puts the state on a collision course with the White House, which as been calling for schools to reopen as a way to boost economic activity.
Although President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that do not reopen classrooms, he has no authority to hold back such appropriations without congressional approval. State schools in the US get only 8 per cent of their funding from the federal government.
Like much of the US’s response to the new coronavirus outbreak, policies towards school reopenings have become increasingly politicised, with many Democratic authorities resisting Mr Trump’s push to reopen classrooms while some Republicans agreed to go forward.
That has created a policy patchwork, and in some cases confusion, across the country. Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, said on Friday schools must prioritise in-classroom learning and signed a proclamation setting out a set of conditions schools must meet if they wants to offer more than half of its instruction online.
Texas education officials decided on Friday to give schools at least four weeks to delay the resumption of in-classroom learning, having previously earmarked a three-week grace period from the start of the semester.
Greg Abbott, Texas’s Republican governor, and other state officials also announced they would allocate $200m of federal stimulus funds for the purchase of laptops, tablets and other devices for Texans who lack connectivity.
On Thursday, Illinois’s Democratic governor, Jay Pritzker, filed a lawsuit to ensure that students, teachers and staff wear face coverings when schools in the state reopen in anticipation of any legal challenges by schools insisting they will set their own guidelines.
The Los Angeles Unified school district, the second-largest in the country with more than 600,000 students, announced on July 13 it would not allow students back into classrooms in the new year, as did San Diego’s district, the second-largest in the state. Both are in southern California, which has been hardest hit by the recent coronavirus outbreak.
Counties in California are placed on the state’s official coronavirus monitoring list if they fail to meet a series of thresholds covering infection rates and how full local hospitals are compared to their capacity.
Mr Newsom said that even schools that reopen their physical classrooms would need to adhere to guidelines pertaining to mask-wearing, physical distancing, regular testing and contact tracing.