July 16, 2020 / 7:31 PM / 23 days ago

California to release rules for reopening schools on Friday as coronavirus cases mount

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California Governor Gavin Newsom will release new guidelines for opening schools as coronavirus cases continue to mount in the most populous U.S. state, his office said Thursday.

The guidelines, to be released on Friday, come amid an intense debate across the United States about whether it would be safe to send children and teachers back into the classroom amid an ongoing pandemic.

The discussion has taken on a political tinge, as Republican President Donald Trump urges a return to regular school schedules, while many Democrats urge a more cautious approach, such as a continuation of virtual lessons.

In California, numerous school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest, have already said they would begin the school year with remote learning.

Several school districts in more conservative agricultural areas, however, plan to offer in-person learning for students.

Newsom has not yet indicated what the new guidelines will comprise, or whether he plans to order all schools districts to begin the fall term with distance learning.

However, California’s powerful teachers unions strongly oppose in-person instruction without safety measures that could be difficult and expensive to implement. School administrators in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento moved to cancel in-person instruction days after the unions expressed their concerns.

Among the possible actions are a statewide ban on reopening or county-by-county rules based on the number of coronavirus cases. A statewide rule could upend the plans of some more rural and conservative counties to hold classes as usual when school starts next month.

The state could also impose such restrictions as requiring face masks and protective gear for teachers and students, banning sports and requiring a so-called hybrid model under which students attend smaller, in-person classes for half the day or part of the week, followed by remote or online work done at home.

In-person safety measures as well as remote learning will require additional funding from the state and federal government, most experts say.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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