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    Schools Must Reopen

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    As a parent of two daughters, I’m worried about the effects distance learning is having on our children during the pandemic. They’re falling further behind in their studies, jeopardizing their potential, as long as we solely rely on remote classes. On top of that, the longer they don’t see their friends and teachers in person, the more their social development and emotional intelligence could be impacted.

    These concerns spurred me to introduce AB 10 on the first day of our legislative session, requiring school districts to have a reopening plan in place by March 1, 2021. When a school’s county enters the Red, Orange, or Yellow tiers, signaling less widespread risk of COVID-19, my bill mandates the reopening plan to be implemented within two weeks.

    This road map sets a clear threshold of when in-person instruction resumes, while also taking into account public health parameters. Local school districts can still decide for themselves which in-person model best fits their student and workforce needs, including a hybrid format that uses a combination of in-person and remote learning.

    Schools in other states and countries have prioritized reopening and have shown it can be done safely without major coronavirus outbreaks. California must take the same path. Renowned expert, Dr. Robert Wachter, Chair of Medicine at UCSF, has said schools are much safer than expected, particularly for young kids ages 5–12 who don’t spread or carry the virus as much as adults.

    At the same time, a recent American Medical Association study found learning loss experienced by elementary students in the first three months of the pandemic could shorten their life span, collectively resulting in more than five million fewer years of life. We can’t let that happen and must intervene.

    AB 10 comes after I and other members of the San Francisco delegation sent letters earlier this month to five superintendents in our districts, urging them to prioritize reopening schools. There are resources already allocated in the state budget to help them do so safely.

    Most public schools throughout the state haven’t adopted the guidance the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has already issued on how to get students and teachers back in the classroom with safety protocols in place. It’s based on the color-coded system that tracks the number and percentage of COVID-19 cases daily:

    • Purple: No public or private school can reopen, but those teaching grades K–6 or providing instruction to a small “cohort” group can get a waiver.
    • Red: Reopening will be possible once the county has remained in this tier for 14 days.
    • Orange/Yellow: May reopen immediately, unless the county has stricter rules.

    The few schools that have reopened using these guidelines have primarily been private institutions, disproportionately affecting low-income students and worsening achievement gaps. After years of progress improving the quality of public education for all students, I can’t let our work take a step backwards when there are proven ways to safely bring back in-person learning. President-elect Joe Biden has also vowed to reopen most schools within his first 100 days.

    Public hearings for AB 10 may begin as early as next month. You can help by calling or emailing your state representative in Sacramento, voicing your support. When we emerge from the Purple tier and regional stay-at-home orders are lifted, we must ensure our kids can go back to school and grow up in a post-pandemic world having successfully navigated their formative years under extraordinary circumstances.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on December 17, 2020