California's Largest Teachers Union Says Newsom Again 'Moved Goalpost' for Reopening Schools

California is poised to take a strong step toward reopening its schools after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill passed by the state legislature earlier this week to help school districts do so.

The $6.6 billion deal Newsom signed on Friday includes nearly $4.6 billion to assist with supplemental instruction for schools throughout California and $2 billion to be distributed to schools that reopen for in-person instruction.

The Democratic governor praised the "overwhelming" bipartisan support for the bill during a virtual signing ceremony on Friday and said he is optimistic the legislation "is going to really accelerate openings all across this state."

"This is the right time to sign this bill, this is the right time to safely reopen for in-person instruction our schools," Newsom said.

The legislation also has support from California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who said during the virtual event that he thinks the legislation "may in fact be one of the most important bill signings that we will see in the entire legislative cycle this year."

Gavin Newsom school reopenings
California's largest teachers union said it was "disappointed" with Governor Gavin Newsom's administration's decision to update coronavirus-related health guidelines as a school reopening bill was set to gain final approval. In the photo above, Newson speaks during a news conference after touring Barron Park Elementary School on March 2, 2021 in Palo Alto, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Though the bill has support from Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, the California Teachers Association (CTA) aired concerns about its passing on Thursday after Newsom announced new updates to the state's COVID-19 health guidance. The updates will enable the state to reserve 40 percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses for the communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, a response to how Californians in lower-income brackets have been found to contract the virus at greater rates than those who have higher incomes.

The guidelines also say that once 2 million vaccine does have been administered in those harder-hit communities—which Newsom said will likely happen "sometime in the next two weeks"—the state will begin to allow communities to reopen at higher case rates, according to a Thursday news release from Newsom's office.

"Once that threshold is reached, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will be updated to allow for somewhat higher case rates in each tier, with an overall effect of allowing counties to loosen health restrictions at a somewhat accelerated, but still responsible, pace," the release said. Guidelines will undergo another update as soon as 4 million doses have been administered within those communities, the release added.

In a Thursday statement, the CTA applauded the investment in supplemental instruction and acknowledged efforts the state made last month to expand vaccine access to teachers and other school employees. But the CTA also raised concerns about the updated health guidelines as the state legislature reached a deal on reopening schools for in-person learning.

"We're disappointed the Administration, once again, moved the community case rate goalpost by relaxing the red tier standard from seven daily cases to 10 per 100,000 residents," CTA President Toby Boyd said. "Educators are painfully aware of the impact these eleventh-hour changes have on our school communities – whether it's the waivers, inconsistent safety standards or shifting guidance earlier in the pandemic.

"Changing guidance directly tied to this legislation will impact districts already working on their plans and will likely trigger confusion, fear and anxiety when our communities are already worried about the safety of their families," Boyd said.

The CTA president went on to raise additional concerns about requirements for COVID-19 testing to root out asymptomatic cases and suggested the $2 billion set aside for schools that will soon reopen or have already done so "penalizes" schools located in areas with higher rates of virus transmission.

The CTA reposted Boyd's Thursday comments on Twitter after Newsom signed the school reopening deal on Friday.

“Changing guidance directly tied to this legislation will impact districts already working on their plans and will likely trigger confusion, fear and anxiety when our communities are already worried about the safety of their families.” -@ETobyBoyd https://t.co/Jq6w3fUsXn

— California Teachers Association (@WeAreCTA) March 5, 2021

Newsweek reached out to the CTA and Newsom for further comment but did not receive responses in time for publication.

California has reported more COVID-19 cases than any other state since the start of the pandemic. By Friday, the California Department of Public Health reported nearly 3.5 million total cases and more than 53,000 total COVID-19 deaths.

Newsom said on Friday that the state was expected to have surpassed 10 million total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by the end of the day. As the vaccine rollout continues, California is also reporting declines in case rates, hospitalizations and ICU admissions following recent surges in the fall and winter, according to state health officials.

Newsom and state legislators have been negotiating school reopening plans amongst themselves and with teachers unions for months. Most California schools have been closed for in-person instruction since Newsom announced the state's first pandemic-related lockdown last March, and the school reopening debate has become a point of focus in the recall campaign currently targeting the governor.

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