New guidelines for distance learning were revealed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Education in a briefing on Friday as many school districts across the state started their school year this week.
More than 90% of California students will start the 2020-2021 school year online. Newsom and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said the state's guidelines for helping schools mitigate the digital divide among kids.
The new rules call for California school districts to have access to devices and WiFi connectivity for all students, daily live interaction with teachers online, providing assignments that are "equivalent of in-person classes," as well as adapted lessons for English language learners and Special Education students.
"These circumstances are not ideal, but students will continue to learn, and we have to make sure we bridge any learning gaps," Thurmond said.
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Newsom tried to project control over the situation Friday, though he acknowledged it's a "sub-optimal environment."
The governor said companies such as Apple, T-Mobile, Office Depot and Staples have set aside hundreds of thousands of devices for California schools, as the state works to ensure all students and teachers are prepared for distance learning.
In addition to the guidelines, an additional $5.3 billion in funding has been made available for California schools to help implement this new guidance.
The governor said the school districts that have applied for the financial support so far would receive funding, including Fresno Unified, which will receive $87 million to help with distance learning.
Eighty-one percent of the funding is going to schools with students from low-income households, foster youth, homeless, and students with disabilities.
Newsom said the districts have flexibility in how they follow the guidelines, but those who do not implement the new rules will not be eligible for funding. And though there are a slew of rules about what schools should do, the rules for being able to reopen for in-person instruction aren't set in stone.
The state is also working to provide guidelines to allow school districts to convene small groups of students who cannot obtain a fruitful education from home on campus, the governor added. He did not elaborate on which students would qualify for these groups.
Newsom said the state could reopen schools sooner than later if Californians continue wearing masks and physical distancing.
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His briefing came as California surpassed 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, the first state in country to do so, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The state reported 7,934 coronavirus cases on Friday, with 4,429 of those cases coming from the backlog of tests. Hospitalizations and ICU rate continued to decrease statewide.
Earlier this week, Newsom reported a decrease in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. While the decline was encouraging, he said Californians are still not minimizing mixing with people from outside their households.
KFSN-TV, KGO-TV and the Associated Press contributed to this report.