SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten, along with six other superintendents, wrote a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, blasting his latest safe school reopening plan.
Wednesday, Marten joined Superintendent Bob Nelson of Fresno Unified School District, Jill Baker of Long Beach Unified, Austin Beutner of Los Angeles Unified, Kyla Johnson-Trammell of Oakland Unified, Jorge A. Aguilar of Sacramento City Unified, and Vincent Matthews of San Francisco Unified to address concerns of the Governor's "Safe Schools for All" plan. They said it does not do enough to improve COVID-19 related issues for students from low-income communities.
"We do not want to see the state spend state education dollars on public health issues," Marten said.
Newsom's plan, released on December 30, 2020, said it would spend $2 Billion to help some schools reopen, beginning with the youngest grades (Preschool to second grade) in February. The Governor cited scientific studies that show young children are least susceptible to catching and spreading the virus. Once conditions improve, the older students will gradually be phased in.
According to the "Safe Schools for All" plan, the $2 billion would cover testing at school sites and give $450 per student, only at schools that meet the public health criteria. For months, the requirement for schools to reopen was to have a local case rate of less than seven per 100,000 people. But the new plan changed the criteria to 28 per 100,000 people. Marten said the sudden change in guidelines caught the superintendents off guard.
"He changed that," Marten said. "Right now, our adjusted case rate, I think we're about 77 per 100,000."
Marten said districts with a large urban core would not qualify for that funding, creating an even wider education gap for low-income students.
"This plan, the way the Governor has it written, could be a One-Two Punch," Marten said. "It's disadvantaging the large urban core districts. We have the high case rates in San Diego, and the state is talking about sending the money to other parts of the state where the virus is under control and schools can reopen. At this point, our students will not see dollar one right now because the virus is out of control."
The superintendents collectively said the costs of testing and tracing at school sites should not come out of the state's education budget.
"Use infrastructure dollars for a vaccine and testing," Marten said. "[Use] education dollars to prioritize the extra time with teachers so that we can focus on summer school, recovery, and even for in-person learning for the fall."
San Diego Unified already has a partnership in place with UC San Diego to conduct tests for students and staff. Marten is hoping the state will allow them to continue their own program.
"Let's prioritize," Marten said. "If districts have figured out testing in spite of the state, reimburse us for the testing plan that we have come up with on our own. For districts that don't have a testing plan, give them the one that you've come up with."
Without zeroing in on testing and public health first, Marten does not believe the state can achieve a safe and fair reopening for all students.
"There should be a public health focus to any plans that the Governor is moving in place to get schools reopened, and we're not seeing a robust enough commitment," Marten said.
Marten is urging the Governor to immediately release details about the vaccination rollout for educators and school staff across the state.
"There is no need to wait to have a robust testing plan with a timeline," Marten said. "Could you imagine if the Governor came out with a plan that would say all teachers are going to be vaccinated by February 1? That would be a real goal!"
Friday is the deadline for the Governor to finalize the state budget, including the allocation of the Education department.