A $6.6 billion school reopening initiative launched by Gov. Gavin Newsom was met with mixed reactions in Orange County, where parents are divided on the prospect of full-time, in-classroom studies.
“I think they should open immediately,” Orange County resident Jim Puro told The Epoch Times. “We’re creating a generation of kids that are going to be dysfunctional because of their not being socially adapted to other kids.”
California’s governor signed into law March 5 a $6.6 billion bill that allocates $2 billion in educational funds for elementary schools to reopen, from kindergarten through second grade.
Only counties with significant reductions in transmission rates among the broader community will receive a funding incentive to reopen for higher grades. Schools aren’t required to participate in the program, but receive a financial incentive for doing so.
In Orange County, most school districts are offering hybrid and distance learning options for young students. Parents can opt to keep their children home and participate virtually, or send their children to school for a few hours a day. In-classroom studies for hybrid students are supplemented with home assignments.
Things are different in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where schools remain closed. As of March 8, the district was working with its teachers’ union over efforts to resume in-person classes. However, the union wants in-person instruction delayed until employees are vaccinated and COVID-19 case rates drop.
Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, said it’s unclear whether the new bill will have any effect on school boards’ decision to reopen.
“Even though there’s this pot of money, the state is not actually requiring that the schools reopen. It’s really up to the school boards and the unions,” Izumi told The Epoch Times, adding that there’s “a very open question as to whether these schools are going to open on any kind of wide-spread scale here in California or not.”
The bill doesn’t include funding for students beyond Grade 2, and Izumi said a lack-of-support for older students could exacerbate the challenges teens are facing.
“I think that one of the problems you’re going to see is that a lot of the kids who are suffering the most, especially with mental issues and social issues—such as kids in middle school, in high school—they’re really kind of left out of this deal, for the most part,” Izumi said.
“With these increased rates of depression, eating disorders and other mental health issues that teenagers are going through, are not really going to be addressed by … this bill, because most of the middle and high schools are probably still going to let be left closed.”
Newsom has defended the bill, saying in a statement that it’s meant to help the “youngest and the most vulnerable students.”
“The state is committed to creating safe learning environments for students and safe workplaces for educators as we build on months of progress to accelerate the pace of school reopenings across California,” Newsom said.
In Orange County, parents such as Marilyn Palomino said it’s too soon for schools to reopen.
Palomino said her son, who is a teacher in the Orange Unified School District, caught the COVID-19 virus on the job.
“My son got COVID right before winter break; and the only place he could have gotten it really was at the school because it’s in-person,” Palomino said, adding that she doesn’t believe schools have the funding to keep classrooms safe.
“I really think the schools are hurting because to implement a clean, healthy environment for everyone—the kids and the staff—it takes more money than they had.”
Evette Carsten agreed and said she didn’t think it was safe for schools to reopen until all teachers were vaccinated.
“I don’t think they’re ready,” Carsten said. “The teachers all need to be vaccinated. It needs to be a safe place for the children and teachers, and the parents bring them to and from school.”
Others, such as Bob McCann of Huntington Beach, want to see schools reopen after witnessing the harmful effects of distance learning.
“I know that the scores have gone down since of the pandemic, that they’re just not as high as what they had been in the homeschooling, and the Zoom schooling really drains a person … and six to eight hours a day on zoom is just as not beneficial to the teachers, not beneficial to the students,” McCann said.
McCann is optimistic that with teachers getting vaccinated at the current rate, schools should reopen.
“What is going on now with the teachers getting all vaccinated and all, I think that is really a plus and I’d like to see the schools reopen,” he said.
“[Vaccination] is put being pushed really heavily now in California, so I’m thinking within the next two or three weeks, everybody should be vaccinated—all these teachers and everything.”
Ralph Bostic of Huntington Beach said kids need to get back to school immediately.
“They should never have been shut down. This is crazy. These kids are losing a year of their life,” Bostic said.
“I’ve got seven grandkids. … I’ve got one daughter who has four kids [and] lives in Mission Viejo. She had to quit her job because the kids couldn’t go to school. She’s got one kid that has learning disabilities. She spends all her days with her, working with her, and they’re underwater financially. It’s unbelievable.”