What Are the Plans for Reopening California Schools?

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Good morning.

We’re five months into life upended by a global pandemic. Each attempt to return to normal has reliably come back a few weeks or a month later to remind us that normal is still very much out of reach.

Now, schools are the most important sites of fraught debate over what life can or should look like going forward.

[Track which states have reopened or closed businesses back down.]

Parents, teachers, school staff members, children and young adults starting their college careers are each juggling unique combinations of risk to their health, livelihood, personal growth and professional development.

[Read the full story about California’s school-reopening guidelines.]

California has issued guidelines for grade schools to reopen that would require most to start the school year remotely because case rates are too high in the counties where the vast majority of the state’s residents live.

[Here’s how Oakland students’ first day of distance learning went, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.]

But soon after, at the urging of some parents and private school officials, the state released a waiver application that would allow certain elementary schools to open even in counties where schools more broadly were not allowed to have in-person instruction — a move that EdSource reported drew outrage from teachers’ unions, who have largely opposed efforts to reopen schools in person.

The Los Angeles Times reported that at one school in Nevada County, masked children have returned to classrooms where windows will be open whenever possible and high fives have been replaced by socially distanced “lobster hugs.”

Still, leaders there acknowledge it’s a process that will require learning as they go. If a district in a suburban Atlanta county is any indication, returning to schools could be perilous: Within the first week, almost 1,200 students and staff members were ordered to quarantine and two high schools closed their doors.

[Read the full story on Cherokee County.]

California officials also put out guidance for higher education institutions, which had already been scrambling to either start the year remotely, as Cal State University campuses will, or put in place protocols for allowing some students back for in-person instruction and to live in dorms. Still, thousands of coronavirus cases have been linked to college campuses, including hundreds in California.

The New York Times will continue to track the latest for schools in a new newsletter.

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it by email.)

A quick update on the pandemic:

As it becomes clearer that much of the spread of the coronavirus has taken place among the lower-wage essential workers and that reopening is likely to be slow, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday called on lawmakers to pass an aid plan that would help Californians, and especially ailing small-business owners.

“You can’t start a conversation about recovery without stabilizing this virus,” he said.

[See California’s coronavirus cases by county.]

Mr. Newsom said that while the state had recorded an unusually high number of cases over the past day, most were from a backlog stemming from a data reporting problem that has clouded California’s ability to gauge its progress in controlling the spread of Covid-19 over the past couple of weeks.

But he said that the number of hospitalizations, which were unaffected in the data glitches, have decreased by 19 percent over the past two weeks — a promising sign.

Still, he emphasized that the state must continue to prepare for widespread economic fallout, including by extending eviction moratoriums.

A fast-moving wildfire in the Lake Hughes area of northern Los Angeles County exploded to 10,000 acres within hours, KTLA reported. According to Los Angeles County fire officials, the fire showed “extreme” behavior amid hot weather and wind.

Officials ordered residents of the area to evacuate, but some were asked to stay in their cars at first to avoid being in an enclosed shelter with others.

The blaze was among the first to test what experts have warned would be firefighting capacity depleted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor last month laid out plans to address the extra challenges, including moving families forced to flee into hotels or motels.

Read more about Ms. Harris’s political career as a fighter forged in the Bay Area. [The New York Times]

And read about how, for the Black women who helped her along the way, the moment is at once joyful and worrisome. [The New York Times]

Also, asked whom he’d consider appointing to replace Ms. Harris in the Senate, Mr. Newsom said he’s focused on responding to the pandemic. But he added that he’d already started fielding pitches.

  • Across the country, restaurants and bars have been caught in a difficult bind: reopen and risk the health of employees forced to return to work, often for customers unwilling to wear masks, or don’t, and lose out on desperately needed income. [The New York Times]

  • The cherry industry in Washington, like California’s vast agricultural sector, is struggling to find workers to do the physically demanding labor it takes to get perfectly ripe fruit to consumers. [The New York Times Magazine]

If you missed it, here’s how a small California peach grower sees our relationship to food changing in the pandemic. [The New York Times]

  • An orange plastic fence at Ocean Beach in San Diego came to symbolize divisions in the ways cities, the county and the state should enforce restrictions. [The San Diego Union-Tribune]

  • For many in American communities with concentrated Chinese populations, like the San Gabriel Valley and Irvine, WeChat is a way of life and woven into commerce. Now the Trump administration is set to ban it. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Meet Sonoko Sakai, a Highland Park-based home cooking expert and acclaimed soba maker who champions heritage buckwheat. (The images are a balm.) [T Magazine]

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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