Most students to begin school at home
July 27, 2020
On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom released much-anticipated guidance on school reopening, mandating that counties currently on the state’s coronavirus monitoring list will not be able to physically reopen their campuses in the fall. Districts that have not been on the county monitoring list for the previous 14 days “may” decide to physically reopen. Earlier that same week, many districts — including California’s largest, LAUSD and San Diego USD — announced they will begin the school year with distance learning instruction as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the state. Newsom’s guidance — which also included direction on face coverings, spacing for social distancing, and parameters for closing schools if teachers or staff test positive for coronavirus — gave administrators state-level guidelines to follow.  With just weeks before the start of instruction, school superintendents have been making their decisions about how to begin the school year amid a flurry of data, public opinion, inconsistent guidelines from local, state and national officials, and pressures from parents, teachers and even the president of the United States. “I want to tell you flat out — I’m worn out,” said Palo Alto USD Superintendent Don Austin, who shared his comments during ACSA’s Campus Tour program on July 14. “This is the most brutal time of my career, and I would venture to guess most people’s.” 
Newsom says counties on watch list must start school year with distance learning 
Newsom’s announcement came as coronavirus infection rates in California continue to climb. As of July 20, 33 counties were on the state’s “county monitoring list” for three consecutive days, which triggers the closure of certain indoor activities, such as personal care services and fitness centers. Mostly high-population counties are on the list, including Orange, Riverside and Santa Clara.  Calls to reopen schools are coming from the highest levels, as President Donald Trump held a summit July 8 pressuring states to physically reopen their schools or face cuts to funding. Parents, especially essential workers, are concerned about the ability to return to work and restart the economy if kids are not in school. Meanwhile, reports have cited the loss of learning, inequitable outcomes for students, and reduced ability to serve meals and monitor child welfare during remote learning as reasons to keep students in school. While groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Department of Education acknowledge that in-person instruction is best for students, they have emphasized that schools should only reopen if local health experts and data show it to be safe. Parents and labor unions are expressing concern about schools’ ability to protect staff and students from the virus, especially given limited supplies of personal protective equipment and testing capacity. Members of ACSA’s School Reopening Planning Group, which issued a call to action to state officials in May, shared their current plans for the fall during ACSA’s  “Common Purpose, Uncommon Times” program on Facebook Live July 13. In Shasta County, which is not on the state’s watch list, Shasta Union High School District Superintendent Jim Cloney spoke of plans for the physical reopening of campuses. He said the county’s low hospitalization and death rates are metrics he is monitoring with public health in order to safety reopen. “We are experiencing a growth just like everybody else in California in terms of count right now, but it’s been a measured growth, it’s not been an exponential growth,” he said. “So as long as we feel we can stay on that measured growth path, we are confident we are going to reopen in phase 3 — fully open, all students, five days with heavy emphasis on face coverings and heavy emphasis on social distancing.”  José L. Gonzáles is superintendent of the Planada Elementary School District in Merced County, which was placed on the state’s watch list. He said parental opinion on reopening schools has changed in recent weeks. “In mid-June we were looking at 75 to 80 percent of our parents were going to be sending kids back. As of this morning, we’re down to 50 percent,” he said on July 13. “Our learning community has completely pivoted. I think just the national/local/state attention that this has been garnering has really shifted their vision and what they had hoped school would look like.”
“Feeling beat down and allowing yourself to quit are very different things. I’m seeing resilience in our leaders.”
—Don Austin, Superintendent, Palo Alto Unified School District
Some districts have received variance from county health officials to ease the 6 feet distancing requirement to 3 feet, whereas other districts are following strict guidance at the advice of their local health officials. In Sonoma County, which was one of the first to go into distance learning in the spring of 2020, Sonoma Valley USD Superintendent Soccoro Shiels is recommending the distance learning model as the best option for students and staff to start school, citing the need for more clear guidance on when it will be safe to reopen. “I hope statewide we can have a clear decision-making model, because that isn’t the type of thing where I, as a superintendent, an educator, feel comfortable saying I know what the science is saying,” Soccoro said on July 13. “We said three things would guide us: Science, safety and schooling, and schooling is our lane — totally got it. And safety even, once we know what the parameters are ... But the science — we really are relying on other people in this government system to figure out what that means and have it make sense for schools.” Over in Palo Alto, Superintendent Austin is launching the PAUSD+ Student Support Center, a location designed to offer students who are at higher risk for poor learning outcomes and/or face unique challenges (such as homelessness, foster care, or safety concerns) a place to get academic support during the days that are designated for distance learning. “PAUSD+ prioritizes the students that need us the most so we give them more access to in-person, even if our schools are closed,” Austin said. “It really is our attempt to reconnect and, if nothing else, just keep an arm around the kids that, if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose.” Although Austin said school leaders have not had much positive news since February, he remains hopeful and believes in people to get our country through this difficult period. “I do get energy from speaking with my colleagues and I think seeing the all-in attitude from the administrators in our state has been good,” he said. “Feeling beat down and allowing yourself to quit are very different things. I’m seeing resilience in our leaders.”
Visit the
COVID-19 School Reopening
page on the Resource Hub to find
ACSA’s California School Reopening Guidance webinar
, information on
and more to help support school leaders.
Contact Us

© 2020 Association of California School Administrators
ACSA EdCal logo.
Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators