Safe Schools for All plan won’t work for most
The plan aims to aid and incentivize the reopening of California public schools through grants.
close up of school door handles

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Dec. 30 unveiled the Safe Schools for All plan (, which contains a variety of funding and technical support measures to encourage local educational agencies to resume on-campus instruction. “Learning is non-negotiable,” Gov. Newsom said during the presentation of the plan. “Neither is safety.”

Developed in partnership with the Legislature, the plan focuses on a $2 billion grant program that aims to ensure careful implementation and build confidence by supporting schools to bring back the youngest children (TK-2) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then phasing in other grade levels through the spring as conditions allow. This phased-in approach recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 with core safety measures in place.

The Governor stated the plan was prompted by research suggesting that, with proper mitigation efforts, a safe return to school is possible. He noted that the plan is designed to address the negative social and emotional impacts as well as the disruption to learning that can occur with prolonged periods of online instruction — particularly for younger children, low-income students, students with disabilities and other disproportionately affected populations.

In order to become law, Safe Schools for All must be approved by the Legislature. Districts only have until Feb. 1 to apply for the first round of base grants of $450 per student if they reopen elementary schools for in-person learning — supplemental and concentration grant funds will mean that the grants could range from $700-800 for some LEAs. These funds, available until Dec. 2021, can be used for any purpose consistent with providing in-person instruction, including salaries for certificated or classified employees providing in-person instruction or services; social and mental health support services provided in conjunction with in- person instruction; COVID-19 testing; personal protective equipment; and ventilation and other site upgrades necessary for health and safety.

It is important to note that while every district can apply for the funding, only schools in counties that have a seven-day average case rate of less than 25/100,000 people per day can implement their plans. As of this writing, only five of 58 California counties would qualify. Along with the laundry list of documents needed to be finalized and submitted with the application, LEAs need time to gather community input, negotiate with bargaining units, acquire PPE, upgrade HVAC systems, recruit staff, organize logistics and prepare to perform critical public health functions.

“Given that the virus surge throughout most of the state leaves most schools unable to open and the extremely unrealistic application deadline, we do not expect most children in the state to return to in-person learning by the Governor’s timeline,” said CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “The name of the plan is indeed a misnomer, as only some schools are in position to take advantage. A much more generous and comprehensive program is needed to facilitate on-campus instruction throughout California.”

Application requirements

The application requires schools to develop a COVID-19 safety plan (to be sent to the local health department as well), which would include regular coronavirus testing for students and staff, adherence to Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standards and a copy of collective bargaining agreements with their teachers union. For children who choose to remain in distance learning, schools will also be required to show that students have access to a device and high-speed internet.

“The level of testing that would be associated with wanting to apply for these funds is tremendous.”
Dennis Meyers, CSBA Assistant Executive Director of Governmental Relations

By Feb. 16, schools seeking the in-person instruction grants must provide optional in-person instruction to “at least” K-2 students, children without internet access, special education students, foster youth and homeless children. The funding expands to students up to the sixth grade in March, requiring in-person instruction for those students by March 15.

The plan includes mandatory COVID-19 testing of staff and students. How broad and frequent testing should occur depends on the county’s tier: weekly for everyone where the virus is widespread (in the upper range of the purple tier, between 14 and 28 cases per 100,000) to biweekly testing or testing only students with symptoms of the virus in the lower tiers of red, orange and yellow. The Governor noted that private insurance and MediCal should cover most testing costs, and the state will offer districts a discounted rate of less than $40 per test for those who are uninsured. Districts would have to pick up additional non-lab costs.

“The level of testing that would be associated with wanting to apply for these funds is tremendous,” said Dennis Meyers, CSBA Assistant Executive Director of Governmental Relations. “Can you get your program together that fast? Can you put your testing together that fast? How much will this $450 per ADA grant allow you to do? Do you need more PPE? How much of this testing cadence is going to eat into that $450 per ADA? Those are all the things you need to consider, and already, those are concerns that we’ve expressed.”

Principles of Safe Schools for All

The plan is based on eight principles designed to facilitate reopening. Aside from funding and testing, the plan also provides for:

Safety and mitigation: To further ensure health and safety in the classroom, the state will focus on the implementation of key measures, including testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and vaccinations.

PPE: All staff and students in schools are required to wear masks and the state will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The state has also provided schools with state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.

Contact tracing: Schools will continue to be on-boarded to the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools.

Vaccinations: School staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through spring 2021.

Oversight and assistance: A cross-agency team composed of dedicated staff from the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA and educational agencies will lead the Safe Schools for All team, which will provide hands-on support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans. These supports include school visits and walk-throughs as warranted, webinars and training materials, and ongoing technical assistance.

Transparency and accountability: A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding and data on in-school transmissions. Additionally, a web-based “hotline” will allow school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team, which will lead to escalating levels of intervention, starting with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.

CSBA has provided initial feedback on the plan and will continue that dialogue, continuing to press for the funding, resources, staffing and expertise required to meet the challenges of the state’s schools.