California education chief says schools can’t open without masks

Tony Thurmond, with Gov. Gavin Newsom in the background | AP Photo
Tony Thurmond, with Gov. Gavin Newsom in the background | AP Photo

SACRAMENTO — California has a major goal to meet before schools can reopen: acquiring masks for teachers and more than 6 million students.

Local school districts will decide when they will welcome students back to physical classrooms and the state is not mandating a common opening date, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday. But he made one thing clear: Personal protective equipment is a must.


“They need lots of personal protective equipment. There have to be masks and hand sanitizer and the ability for hand washing and other resources for our schools to open safely,” Thurmond said in a news conference. “We know that having access to this personal protective equipment is a critical factor in the ability to reopen. Quite frankly, our schools cannot reopen without it.”

The state Legislature passed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus relief package in March, which included $100 million for personal protective equipment and cleaning for schools that remained open, but more will be needed to accommodate all of the state’s schools in the social distancing era, Thurmond said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended face coverings, desks spaced six feet apart, and, if feasible, daily health checks in schools as part of detailed guidance quietly published this week.

While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said his area schools will not be able to safely reopen until students can be tested for the coronavirus “at least weekly, if not more frequently,” Thurmond has been silent on the issue of testing.

Most districts in the state are sticking with their original start dates of late August or early September, Thurmond said, but schools will look different, likely with smaller class sizes and hybrid programs that still include distance learning.

Newsom has suggested schools could start as soon as July to make up for learning loss, but teachers unions have been resistant to that idea.

The California Department of Education will release guidance for the first time on Thursday for how districts can safely reopen schools.

“All of our focus on reopening is first and foremost safety for our students and for our educators and for our families,” Thurmond said.

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