Delays in the state’s efforts to get 6 million COVID-19 home testing kits to students – preferably before the start of second semester – have been “unfortunate” and “difficult,” California’s top schools chief acknowledged on Wednesday, Jan. 5.
While attributing distribution challenges primarily to delays caused by weather, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond also credited such school districts as Downey, Alhambra, Inglewood and Long Beach, saying that, despite not having received testing kits, some districts have found ways to work with county agencies or local organizations to provide testing nonetheless.
“It’s disappointing that the tests have not reached all of the places that they need to reach,” Thurmond said. “But I want to commend the resilience of those who’ve found ways to work with county health, to work with health clinics and community clinics, like the one that we’re at today, that are providing COVID testing, that are providing access to getting a vaccine or getting a booster” shot.
Thurmond made his remarks during a press conference outside Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, where he met with staff working at an onsite health clinic. He also announced plans to introduce legislation to address learning losses and provide other supports to students still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of Southern California children resumed in-person classes on Monday, and thousands more will return next week. The Los Angeles Unified School District is now requiring all students and employees to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campuses next week.
In terms of the delays in COVID-19 home testing kits, Thurmond said his department has been in touch with the state Department of Public Health about expediting delivery of the kits and plans to be in L.A. County the rest of this week to help schools distribute free home tests to students, including on Friday when L.A. Unified is set to begin handing out the kits.
L.A. County has received 400,000 to 800,000 of these tests, with possibly up to another 1 million tests on its way, according to the state superintendent.
The goal is to keep schools open, he said, noting that less than 1% of California schools have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks since the start of the school year.
“We intend to keep it that way, but we understand that our schools are up against a lot of pressure,” he said. “We want to do all that we can to get them resources.”
During Wednesday’s news conference, Thurmond also mentioned a workgroup he’s forming to look at how to build up the schools workforce to address statewide staffing shortages. The workgroup will review everything from employee compensation to career pathways and housing for educators.
Additionally, he announced that he’ll be introducing legislation to support student learning and their wellbeing as students continue to recover from the pandemic.
Among the initiatives he announced were:
- A program to add 10,000 mental health clinicians to California’s workforce to provide school counseling. The program would provide scholarships, student loan forgiveness and reduce the time it would take for individuals to become licensed. The program is estimated to cost at least $250 million.
- An effort to retain 15,000 new teachers who are currently teaching under a waiver and need to complete their Teaching Performance Assessment or the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment to be fully credentialed by supporting them through induction programs.
- A proposal to provide funds to school districts and charter schools to expand dual-language immersion programs, which support academic performance and could help reduce declining enrollment.
- Paid internships so students can explore career technical education programs while supporting themselves. Thurmond is proposing $575 million to fund this program.
- A plan to have all students reading by the third grade in four years’ time. Thurmond is proposing intervention programs and more teacher training.
- Additional supports for California’s more than 240,000 homeless students, including more case management and counseling services.
Thurmond did not indicate what the total price tag of his proposals amount to but said that, regardless of whether these items are included in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2022-23 budget – which will be released by Monday – he plans to introduce legislation so that they become law.