California Gov. Gavin Newsom has found himself in the hot seat after lawmakers announced a $6.6 billion aid package to assist reopening in-person teaching across the state -- a portion of which assists with contingencies to allow teachers and staff to remain at home.
"Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Monday. "Now, our collective charge is to build on that momentum and local leadership, and – just as critically – do whatever it takes to meet the mental health and academic needs of our students, including over the summer."
State legislatures have allocated $2 billion from the package to support public school needs with personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and COVID-19 testing.
But Newsom said the funding goes beyond basic sanitation support, and provides "flexibility" for schools to establish systems to help accommodate individuals who do not feel comfortable returning to the classroom -- whether it is school staff or students.
"No one is compelling anybody," Newsom said Monday. "We’re creating conditions where we expect in-person instruction. We’re going to provide supports, supplementary supports for people with compromised immune systems, people that are not comfortable going back in," he told reporters.
"That flexibility is not just ventilation, it’s not just PPE, it’s not just sanitation, it’s also personnel to help address those concerns as well," he said in response to a reporter’s question on whether the funding assisted with additional substitute teacher’s in lieu of absent teachers.
Newsom's remarks went largely unnoticed at first but gained renewed attention on social media Wednesday, by frustrated parents who want to see increased policies surrounding in-person teaching.
California has seen contentious fighting on getting kids back in the classroom following nearly a year’s worth of virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic – including a lawsuit launched by the city of San Francisco on their own Board of Education.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch effort to push the board to release a concrete plan on getting public schools open, citing state constitutional violations on a student's right to attend public school and discriminating on the basis of wealth, as only the city’s private schools had reopened for in-person instruction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidlelines on how to safely reopen schools and noted that it is not necessary for all teachers to receive the vaccine before returning to the classroom.
California has allocated 10% of its weekly vaccine distributions for educational workers.
Newsom has faced fierce backlash for his strict response to the coronavirus pandemic, prompting an effort to recall him for his governorship.
Over 1.8 million signatures calling for Newsom's recall have been collected -- surpassing the number of signatories needed to trigger a mid-year election so long as California election officials find the signatures valid.