California Governor: Schools May Look Very Different When They Reopen

April 16, 2020 Updated: April 17, 2020

Although California has yet to present a timetable for reopening its more than 900 school districts, Gov. Gavin Newsom said students and teachers should expect things to look very different when they eventually return to their schools.

More than 6.1 million students are enrolled in California’s public school system. Newsom announced at the beginning of April that all schools in California will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, posing a hardship for families who depend on school for child care and nutrition.

Newsom reassured Californians Tuesday during a press conference that stay-at-home and social distancing orders “will not be a permanent state.” But he also noted that daily activities, including going to school, might not be able to fully return to pre-outbreak normalcy until health officials deem it safe.

“This school year, for all intents and purposes, is over,” said Newsom, adding that he has talked to school district leaders regarding a host of restrictive measures to be put in place for reopened schools, tentatively in the summer or in the fall.

State and school district officials will have to stay “very vigilant” to make sure that “kids aren’t going to school, getting infected, and then infecting grandma and grandpa,” Newsom said. In fact, one of the six criteria to determine when it’s safe to start loosening California’s stay-at-home order is the ability for schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing.

“Can you stagger the times that our students come in so you can appropriate yourself differently within the existing physical environment—by reducing physical contact if possible, reducing the congregate meal, dressing issues related to PE and recess?” Newsom said. “Those are the kinds of things—those are the kind of conversations we’re all going to be having over the course of the next number of weeks and the next number of months.”

That could mean schools need to not only change the layout of cafeterias, libraries, gyms, and other facilities, but also redesign the format of classes, breaks, assemblies, and all other group activities in order to meet physical distancing requirements.

Schools buildings, playgrounds and buses will also “need massive deep cleaning” when they reopen, Newsom added.

Newsom said he is not going to loosen the statewide stay-at-home order until hospitalizations, especially those in intensive care units, “flatten and start to decline” and health care infrastructure has strengthened. He said he would revisit the question of easing restrictions in two weeks.