Is It Time? Legislation Looks at a School Re-Opening for April?

By David M. Greenwald

COVID cases are down across the country, vaccines are slowly but surely getting distributed, and now the California legislature is looking at a bill—SB 86, the “Safe and Open Schools plan,” which would send vulnerable students back to in-person instruction by mid-April while making COVID vaccinations available to onsite teachers and staff.

SB 86 would allocate nearly $6.6 billion in state funds to schools, $2 billion of which must be used to reopen schools for in-person instruction, with an additional $6 billion in federal funds also distributed.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco and chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said Thursday in a call with reporters that this fits with the timelines and goals laid out by the president and governor.

“The timeframe … also appeared to fit within when districts could get bargaining done for the COVID health and safety plans, to make sure that discussions were happening with all the different school employees, as well as being able to give them enough time to have the proper PPE, do whatever they needed to do with the various facilities as students, teachers and staff were coming back,” he said.

Governor Newsom had actually aimed for February—but that was too soon for many concerned about risk to teachers and the need for vaccinations to gain wider distribution.

Newsom in a statement released late on Thursday said, “Since the first week of this year, the Legislature has had before it our Administration’s plan to accelerate and support school reopenings for our youngest students—as safely and quickly as possible.”

He indicated, “While the Legislature’s proposal represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough. I look forward to building on the growing momentum to get our schools open and continuing discussions with the Legislature to get our kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible.”

The announcement comes a week after Yolo County Public Health Officer Aimee Sisson told the Board of Supervisors that she believes elementary school students can safely return to school now while junior high and high school must wait, as must high school athletics, which involve close contact and thus continue to pose significant health risks.

Sisson told the board, “(For) our youngest students, transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, those schools can reopen for in-person instruction and they can do so safely.

“There are many reasons to get our kids back in school,” Sisson said. “One is the learning loss that’s occurring as they are doing distance learning.”

She added, “Getting kids back in school, we’ve seen reduced anxiety and depression. So I would argue that our focus in the short term should be getting … the youngest kids back in the classroom.”

Senator Bill Dodd issued a statement largely in favor of re-opening with the emphasized need for safety.

“Schools must safely reopen, as soon as possible,” Sen. Dodd said. “Many districts around the state have already done so, and with the increasing number of people being vaccinated, it is clearly the right thing to do. Prioritizing teachers is important, but it should not hold up our progress.

“Allowing our children to continue their education is essential for their well-being, to achieve equity and for the overall economy. I appreciate the governor’s efforts to push forward reopening, and we need all stakeholders to step up to make it happen without undue delay.”

Senate Leader Toni Atkins of San Diego added, “Here are two truths—California’s students need to get back in the classroom, and there is no easy solution to getting them there in the midst of the pandemic.”

She said, “These bills move us closer, and build on the Governor’s framework based on feedback that we’ve heard from parents, students, and school employees, including teachers. They keep the conversation going, both in the Legislature and with the Governor. We all share the same goal—to get students back into school safely.”

“We need to do all we can to get campuses open safely, and keep them open.

Under SB 86, all schools would offer optional in-person instruction to vulnerable groups of students by April 15.  Further, schools in counties that are in the red tier or better would be required to offer in-person instruction to all students in K-6 by April 15.

Schools can open prior to that date so long as they are in the red tier, but if school districts choose not to reopen by April, they will forfeit their share of state funding.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    Here’s what some California school board trustees think of some of the parents who are asking for schools to reopen as caught on camera before an Oakley school board meeting had started but much to the surprise of the trustees they were being broadcast.

    Trustees were awaiting the start of the late afternoon meeting on Wednesday when they began discussing parents’ letters and social media posts about reopening schools.
    “It’s easy to hide behind a screen but when you’re face to face with people it’s a whole different ball game,” Trustee Richie Masadas said.
    Trustee Kim Beede then defended herself against a parent who chided her on social media for going to a party during the coronavirus pandemic after declaring it wasn’t safe to return to school.
    “I wasn’t doing anything bad — I honestly don’t care about that part — but are we alone?” she asked the other trustees. “B…., ..If you call me out, I’m going to f… you up.”
    “Sorry, that’s just me,” Beede added.
    After some laughter, Trustee Lisa Brizendine chimed in to commiserate with others about the growing criticism they’ve faced over closed schools, suggesting parents really want schools to reopen so they get their babysitters back.
    “They forget that there’s real people behind those letters they are writing,” she said. “We are real community members, we have kids or have known kids who have gone to those schools, so we have a vested interest in this process and they don’t know what goes on behind the scene and it’s unfortunate they want to pick on us because they want their babysitters back.”
    Masadas suggested parents wanted their free time for other reasons.
    “My brother had a delivery service for medical marijuana. The high clientele were the parents with their kids at school. When you have your kids at home, no more (inaudible),” Masada said, clasping his hands on his forehead as others chuckled in the background.



    1. Ron Oertel

      I’ve said “worse” things than that.

      It is true that parents have had their free childcare “yanked out” from under them.

      Geez, is this how sensitive people are, now? This was a “top news story” last night, on at least one of the Bay Area TV stations.

      You’d think that the local recall effort (based upon skin color) would have received more attention, instead.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Yeah Ron, but these are elected school board trustees and the things they said about the parents are way over the top.  Come on, I mean insinuating that they want to stay home and get a free babysitter while they smoke dope.  You don’t think it’s more that parents are concerned about the lack of education their kids are getting home schooling and staring into a computer?

        1. Ron Oertel

          From what I understand, you can’t plop most young kids in front of a computer without some guidance/structure.  Not sure how much guidance teachers can provide, remotely.

          But, I actually think that it’s a “legitimate” concern, to suddenly expect parents to take on this much responsibility – given that both parents generally work these days. (That’s actually what the humorous comment alluded to.)

        2. Tia Will

          You don’t think it’s more that parents are concerned about the lack of education their kids are getting homeschooling and staring into a computer?”

          I think it is most likely multifactorial. For some parents, the primary concern may be lack of education. For other parents ( such as those preferring homeschooling or independent study)this will be less of an issue. Much of education today depending on grade level is done with the student staring into a computer anyway, just with the guidance of an in-class teacher instead of an in-home parent.

          Yes, we had designed a system in which the teacher frequently served as both instructor and babysitter. However, many parents have now gone to a work from home model and are faced with the difficulties of doing their work while the child is supposed to be doing theirs at the same time.

          I believe we are at a time in our society at which a great deal of creativity and adaptability is required, not simply a demand to return to our pre-pandemic “normal” which in many situations left much to be desired, but which we view with great nostalgia only because it is familiar.

          1. David Greenwald

            One point to address – it’s not “babysitting” it’s the need when you have young children to keep them in class and doing the work instead of playing games while you are trying to work at the same time. It’s very challenging.

  2. Tia Will

    Prioritizing teachers is important, but it should not hold up our progress.”

    I am a strong proponent of opening the schools safely. The keyword is “safely”. I do believe we should let “prioritizing teachers” hold up our “progress”. Any resumption of wide scale classes at anything even approaching previous class size cannot be described as “safely”. We have seen this pattern twice before with this virus where with numbers improving, we celebrate our victory too soon only to loosen our standards and see the next, larger wave. This time we have a real advantage that I would like to see us not lose. The vaccine.  I believe we have a real chance at a safe opening of most K-6 schools by/in April with middle school & high school to follow as safety is confirmed if we:

    1. Use reduced class sizes to allow for distancing and outdoor instruction as much as the weather allows

    2. Insist on masking and strict sanitation rules

    3. Use pods of students who travel together to allow for isolation if there is a positive test in a limited group

    4. Test at an interval to be informed by evidence ( weekly or twice weekly) until community spread conforms with guidelines

    5. Immunize all teachers and staff who will accept the immunization prior to their start of in-person teaching.

    Again, my kudos to those who have chosen to include teachers and school staff as priority groups for immunization. Equal risk should always be met by equal protections, whether that risk is community exposure, pre-existing condition, socioeconomic group, or age.

  3. Don Shor

    I am finding this discussion very perplexing. The official who is entrusted to assess the data and make policy recommendations has said this:

    Speaking to the Yolo Health Council on Thursday, Sisson said there is extensive data from California, other areas of the United States as well as internationally that when a layered approach to reopening schools is used, “particularly elementary schools where risks are different because cohorting is easier and also younger students are less likely to transmit as well as less likely to become infected with coronavirus,” schools can safely reopen.

    “There’s also been schools open throughout the surge with very minimal in-school transmission and they’ve done so without having their staff vaccinated,” said Sisson. “I think this starts to get very political, but the science and data show that elementary schools can safely reopen in the context of high case rates, even without vaccinated staff.”

    Dr. Sisson didn’t say all the teachers had to be vaccinated. She has stated very clearly that her review of the evidence says the elementary schools can be opened now. So why is the question “Is it Time?” being asked? The question is whether the district is prepared to move forward and has a plan for reopening the elementary schools now. If not, and if they are choosing to delay reopening the elementary schools, it is incumbent on them to provide their rationale.

  4. Tia Will


    Perhaps I can help sort out some of the vagaries here. Again, the key is the word “safely”. There is a tendency to use this word as though it were an absolute. It is not. There is no line in the sand that is “safe” on one side, and “unsafe” on the other. There are many shades of grey.

    For example, if a school has a preponderance of young, healthy teachers opening without vaccination will probably be “safe” for most. If one has a school with a preponderance of older teachers, or teachers of color whose communities tend to be hit harder, it may be less safe.

    It has only been within the past two weeks that Dr. Bisson agreed, as have state experts, that teachers should be prioritized, so obviously, this is an area of concern in flux.

  5. Tia Will


    I was just provided with an article that covers several of the points I was making with numeric examples to illustrate relative risk calculations.

    1. Don Shor

      Sorry, I’m not sure which article on that blog you’re referring to. While I might find it interesting, I do look at the credentials of the individuals weighing in on this issue. “Emily Oster is an economics professor at Brown University, and a writer of books on pregnancy and parenting.” I think Dr. Sisson is more likely to provide guidance that will be of benefit to those actually implementing policy.
      Risk assessment is subjective. I deal with it very regularly in my profession (toxicity of houseplants or pesticides, etc.). There is a tendency to allow the most risk-averse individuals dictate policy, which is not appropriate when there are countervailing adverse impacts involved. I am inclined to look at the County Health Officer’s credentials and weigh her opinion as being of likelier value:

      Dr. Sisson received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Epidemiology from the University of California, Davis, and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed residency training in preventive medicine at the California Department of Public Health. Dr. Sisson is board certified in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and is a Fellow in the American College of Preventive Medicine.

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