Dear Governor Newsom

Read our letter with Open Schools California sent to Governor Newsom about the Safe Schools for All Plan.

January 25, 2021

Governor Gavin Newsom 

1303 10th Street, Ste 1173 

Sacramento, CA 95814 

RE: California’s Safe Schools for All Plan 

Dear Governor Newsom, 

On behalf of Open Schools California, we are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of direction, urgency, resources, and equity around the reopening of school for California’s millions of public school students in your recently announced Safe Schools for All Plan. 

Open Schools California is a coalition of local school district-based Open Schools movements from across the state who have come together to pool our voices and communicate our positions on safe school reopening. We are committed to a phased return to the classroom with the strongest possible safety precautions and feel strongly that more be done to create opportunities for in-person instruction immediately. 

For over ten months ago, since March 2020, almost all public schools in California suddenly closed their doors in response to the emerging pandemic and the many uncertainties that surrounded it. 

Students were forced into remote “distance learning,” a poor substitute for in-person school that has created many social-emotional challenges and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Working parents were confronted with the impossible challenge of overseeing their children’s education while simultaneously trying to manage their own jobs and household responsibilities. 

Since that time, our public health officials have developed comprehensive standards to allow schools to safely reopen. In July 2020, the California Department of Public Health set up a waiver process to allow elementary schools to reopen when their county is in the Widespread (Purple) Risk Level, and permitted all other schools reopen at lower tiers.

In addition, the science and data have increasingly shown that schools with proper precautions are not sources of COVID-19 transmission. For example, data from Marin County in fall 2020, where 80% of schools were open and 13,000 students attended in-person classes each day, showed just two suspected cases of transmission at school. Public health officials there deemed the risk of getting the virus at school lower than the chance of getting it in the community as a whole. 

While many private schools have reopened under these standards, public schools largely have not. This disparity has disproportionately affected our most vulnerable low-income students, worsened existing achievement gaps, and resulted in a separate and unequal system of education. In order to fulfill the California Constitution’s mandate of ensuring basic educational equality, we believe the state should require schools to reopen when their county returns to the Red, Orange, or Yellow tiers, setting a clear threshold for when in-person instruction must resume. Without this clear direction, our 1,000 plus school districts will continue to be left on their own, navigating challenging local political dynamics, and we will continue to see dramatically unequal access to school. This is unacceptable. 

As parents, we have witnessed a wide range of challenges with our children’s learning and well-being. We are doing our best, but we are not teachers. We are not counselors. We are deeply concerned about our children’s mental health, their social development, and their preparation for the future. 

providing carrots with burdensome student testing protocols – which have never been required by our county and state public health officials to allow for safe school reopening – won’t get us there. 

As you said in your recent press conference when announcing the “Safe Schools for All Plan,” “in-person is the best setting to meet not only the learning needs, but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids.” However, simply providing carrots with burdensome student testing protocols – which have never been required by our county and state public health officials to allow for safe school reopening – won’t get us there. 

We are deeply troubled by statements in the January 6, 2021 letter from the Superintendents of the state’s largest public school districts that you have refused to even meet with them during the past two months regarding these important issues. Furthermore, your January 8, 2021 statement during a budget press conference that you are ready to provide incentives to schools “when people are committed to promoting the cause of in-person education” is simply unacceptable. 

We must all be committed to this “cause” – there is no viable substitute. 

Whereas school closures and remote learning adversely impact all children, Black and Latinx children are suffering substantially more learning loss, isolation, compromised mental health including increased threats of suicide, and social-emotional trauma warranting immediate intervention and an Executive Order to reopen all public schools, particularly, schools in large urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland by February 1, 2021 and when cleared by California’s Department of Public Health. There are absolutely no reasons to ignore science and data that clearly have shown that schools are safe to reopen when proper safety protocols are established and enforced. 

We are basing our actions on the growing science and evidence about the safety of school when done right. Reopening public schools is an ethical and moral obligation.

Reopening public schools is an ethical and moral obligation. For the record, we support AB10. If your children have returned to in-person, on campus instruction, so should ours. We urge you to take strong leadership on this issue for the sake of California’s children through an equity lens.