COACHELLA — Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia hosted a special town hall meeting Wednesday, February 17, with the Coachella Chamber of Commerce and California Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond to answer questions about the progress in reopening the State’s schools.
Thurmond said there is no question that the best thing for students is to have them in school. However, he added the Department of Education is also focusing on saving lives since many counties have one out of three children testing positive for COVID and are often asymptomatic.
“We know there are still dangerous times, even though there is tremendous need to get our schools open,” said Thurmond. “We are working on that, the assemblymember and rest of legislature.”
According to Thurmond, the California legislature has procured $5 billion in computer training for distance learning for students. The Department of Education is starting robust contact tracing, including spending $2 billion on testing, so that schools can have a sense of safety, according to Thurmond.
Thurmond said it is crucial that contact tracing and COVID testing be improved and increased in the districts to prevent spread and keep everyone safe. However, he said he knows this is not enough.
“We know that distance learning is not the way our schools were meant to be run or the way we were intended to provide education,” said Thurmond. “The most important connection for our students is with their teachers, their peers, and extracurriculars and sports. But right now, we find ourselves, in every county in our State, where we still have very high rates of COVID transmission.”
There are concerns that students are not gaining access to broadband internet at all, bringing more attention to the digital divide and how it has widened. The Department of Education has started an innovation challenge that will give $1 million to find a way to find a way to eliminate the digital divide, including creating infrastructure for technology and internet as well as other proposals.
Thurmond said there needs to be an initiative that will remove internet service caps. He said it is more apparent now that families need fast speed internet to help students’ education and improve communities.
Thurmond said he was very eager to get the initiatives done, since it will open jobs in a field that will help not only help the students, but their communities, grow.
California has thousands of school districts that run independently of each other and will make their own decisions on how to reopen, according to Thurmond. The State has given districts guidance on how to go about opening, how to do hybrid learning arrangements, helped with personal protective equipment supplies, and how to get resources to each school.
Assemblymember Garcia highlighted schools in the Coachella Valley and in the Imperial County that have been able to keep students safe and served. Garcia also mentioned the after-school programs that have kept students fed through the cafeteria free meals, as well as other activities.
Thurmond also stressed that people should be wearing their masks at all times, everywhere they go no matter what. About 30 percent of parents in districts have said they will not send their children to school because they are afraid it is not safe. Masks, according to Thurmond, are the best way to make sure schools will be safe for reopening.
“The more we do that, the closer we get to reopening schools. Until we get those vaccines, that’s the most important thing people can do right now,” said Thurmond.
More than 6 million people have been vaccinated in California, but there has not been enough vaccine supply from the federal government to give to the 40 million people who live in the State. Thurmond and Garcia have been advocating for educators, teachers, and all school staff, to be considered in the front lines for vaccination.