Fresno’s three largest school districts will be in for a share of the $6.6 billion school reopening spending package that state leaders have agreed to, including $4.6 billion for academic interventions, wellness programs, or other needs that the pandemic has created.
The spending packages comes nearly a year after the state’s schools were abruptly shut down to stem the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Most of California’s 6 million schoolchildren have been on distance learning since then.
But to be eligible for $2 billion in incentive money, the legislation requires districts to offer in-person instruction by the end of March for children in transitional kindergarten through second grade and high-risk students such as the homeless and foster youth, even if the district is in a county that remains in the purple tier for widespread coronavirus infections.
Districts in red tier counties would be required to offer in-person instruction for all elementary grades and high-risk students plus one grade of middle school and one grade of high school by March 31. In the red tier, the risk of coronavirus infection spread is substantial, according to the state’s metrics.
Clovis Unified officials estimate the district could be eligible to receive up to about $40 million, so Monday’s announcement is “welcome news,” especially since the district has already made a significant investment to meet the needs of students and staff during the pandemic, spokeswoman Kelly Avants told GV Wire℠.
“New technology, support services to students struggling during the pandemic, COVID testing, and the myriad of health and safety measures we’ve put in place to open our schools for in-person instruction have all cost money over and above our regular budget,” she said. “These funds will help us address the unusual expenses we’ve faced in finding a healthy path back to our classrooms for students and staff.”
How Will Other Fresno Districts Fare?
How the state’s multibillion-dollar spending package may impact Fresno Unified, the state’s third-largest school district, and Central Unified was not immediately clear on Monday.
Fresno Unified has an agreement with the Fresno Teachers Association union not to resume mandatory in-person instruction for elementary and secondary teachers until Fresno County reaches the orange tier, with moderate risk of coronavirus infection.
The county has been in the purple tier since last fall. The latest COVID-19 case and test positivity rates will be released Tuesday.
The district is in negotiations now with the FTA to amend the labor contract, which was crafted when vaccines and widespread testing were not yet on the horizon and infection rates were surging.
District spokeswoman Nikki Henry said Fresno Unified will have a news conference this week, possibly as early as Tuesday, to provide reopening updates and discuss how the legislative funding package may impact the district.
Reopening Plans Vary
Central Unified’s plan has been to offer in-person instruction to elementary students when the county reaches the red tier and to secondary students when the county reaches the orange tier.
Central officials are hopeful that Fresno County will be back in the red tier soon based on the downward trend of COVID-19 cases, putting elementary students back into the classroom this month, spokeswoman Sonja Dosti said.
At this point the district’s reopening plan does not resume in-person secondary school classes before the orange tier, she said. But the board, which next meets on March 9, will have the latest updates from the Fresno County Department of Public Health and governor’s office to consider, Dosti said.
Central Unified’s waiver and safety plan were recently approved, enabling the district to open elementary schools in the purple tier if the board decides to take that step.
Extra Money for Schools, Vaccine Priority for School Staffers
California is pulling out all the stops to get teachers back into classrooms with students. In addition to providing billions of dollars for schools to spend on school ventilation, distancing in classrooms, personal protective equipment, COVID testing, summer school, and other academic initiatives, state officials have made teacher vaccinations a top priority.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at a news conference in Elk Grove on Monday that inoculations at the two FEMA mega-vaccine centers in Oakland and Los Angeles will be reserved on Thursday and Friday for school staffers only.
Fresno County’s allotment of vaccine has been increased substantially starting this month so teachers and other educators who want to be vaccinated can get their first shot, and possibly even both shots, sometime in March.
Fresno Unified’s school staffers will be able to show their badge to get a shot at Valley Children’s Hospital. Central Unified’s educators will get their first shot at a two-day vaccination event later this week at Central East High School. And Clovis Unified has arranged for blocks of vaccination times for its school staffers at various sites starting this week.
Teacher vaccinations are not required before schools can resume widespread in-person instruction.