California governor and unions clash over school openings

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FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlines the safe re-opening of schools while speaking about his 2021-2022 state budget proposal during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. An effort to reopen California schools is foundering, stoking frustrations across Americas most populous state from parents eager to get their children back in classrooms and a governor who wants them there. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

SAN FRANCISCO – An effort to reopen California schools is foundering, stoking frustrations across America’s most populous state from parents eager to get their children back in classrooms and a governor who wants them there.

Parents and behavioral experts say many schoolchildren are feeling helpless or depressed and need a classroom setting to improve their mental health. An exasperated Gov. Gavin Newsom told school officials last week to “pack it up” if they fail to resume in-person classes soon.

Teacher unions say they won't send their members into an unsafe environment. They want all teachers vaccinated before returning to the classroom.

While Texas, Florida and New York are among states that have resumed some classroom instruction, California’s 10,000 public schools have for the most part been closed since March. As most of the state's 6 million public school students approach a one-year anniversary of distance learning, parents are grappling more than ever with the toll of isolation and intense screen time on their kids' well-being.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention said in a recent study that there is little evidence of spreading the infection at schools when proper precautions are taken, such as masks, physical distancing and proper ventilation.

Like elsewhere in the country, many California families have abandoned public schools if they can afford private schools that are running regular classes. Among them is Susan Ortega, a mother of two and a Democrat who voted for Newsom but is so fed up with his handling of the pandemic school situation that she has joined an effort to recall him.

“It’s been horrendous,” she said about distance learning. “These kids have given up hope. They can’t get out of bed. They see no point in anything because there is nothing to strive for."

The resident of the Northern California city of Folsom sent her son to private school last spring but kept her 14-year-old daughter in public school until last week. The girl's emotional state had deteriorated but after just a few days back in the classroom at a private school she was “almost who she was before all this,” said Ortega, who hopes to eventually return her children to public school.