California Legislature OKs plan aimed at in-person learning

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Jennifer Becker, center, Science Teacher, at the Sinaloa Middle School while masked talks her students who are distanced at their desks in Novato, Calif., on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. The school just reopened Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Haven Daily)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California lawmakers on Thursday approved a $6.6 billion plan aimed at pressuring school districts to return students to the classroom before the end of the school year.

The bill does not order school districts to resume in-person instruction and it does not say parents must send their kids back to the classroom if they don’t want to.

Instead, the state will dangle $2 billion before cash-strapped school boards, offering them a share of that money only if they offer in-person instruction by the end of the month.

School districts have until May 15 to decide. Districts that resume in-person learning after that date won’t get any of that money.

“We need to get the schools reopen. And I know it’s hard, but today we are providing powerful tools for schools to move in this direction,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who pleaded with his school district to accept the money and offer in-person instruction.

Most of California's 6.1 million students throughout 1,037 public school districts have been learning from home since last March because of the pandemic. Frustrated parents and politicians have been clamoring for schools to return students to the classroom for months.

But many school boards have been reluctant, facing opposition from teachers unions worried about coronavirus safety protocols and citing surveys from parents saying they are not comfortable sending their kids back to class in-person.

“As a former math teacher for 13 years, we know that that’s the place we need our kids to be, but we’re afraid because you’re asking to put our own lives at risk and to put our families' lives at risk,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County.