State relaxes distancing requirement to 3 feet
Schools must post COVID safety plan on their websites at least five days prior to reopening
Teacher measuring distance between desks
On Saturday, March 20, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration halved its minimum recommended spacing standard for K-12 schools from 6 feet separating each student’s seat to 3 feet between seats. The updated guidance also declared that all schools are eligible to open if located in counties with positive case rates below 25 per 100,000 population. Regardless of their tier, schools must post their COVID safety plans online at least five days before reopening. As of this writing, no counties remain in the purple tier, which would require schools to submit their plans to their local health officer and the State Safe Schools team at the same time the plan is posted online.

Although the updated guidance does not mandate 3 feet of space between seats, the California Department of Public Health said it “strongly recommends” that schools maintain that standard with additional mitigations, which aligns with new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 19. The state said the new guidance is designed to reflect the consensus of the latest scientific research on the transmission of COVID-19 between children, specifically studies that were done in Massachusetts, Utah and Wisconsin schools.

U.S. DOE approves California assessment waivers
California has been granted some assessment flexibility by the U.S. Department of Education. The state’s waiver requests regarding accountability, school identification and related reporting requirements for the 2020–21 school year was approved April 6. In a separate letter, the department advised the state that it does not have to submit a waiver application to use alternate local assessments, which may only be used “where the state concludes it is not viable to administer the assessment because of the pandemic.”

A footnote to the letter states that “viability refers to the ability to administer the statewide summative assessment given a district’s specific circumstances in the context of the pandemic. It does not provide an opportunity for states or school districts to choose to administer local assessments in place of the statewide summative assessment.” It is not clear what factors will determine if an LEA’s administration of the summative assessments is not viable, though the level of in-person instruction is likely to be a consideration. CSBA will update members as further clarification is made available from the California Department of Education.

Those studies were done in schools where masking was enforced, and the new guidance presumes that the relaxed spacing will be accompanied by mitigating steps that include masking, proper ventilation, barriers, cohorts and other precautionary measures. One exception to the 3-foot rule occurs when students are eating and drinking; on those occasions, it is strongly recommended that students maintain 6 feet of distance. In addition, the new guidance pertains only to interaction between students — 6 feet of distance is still recommended for interactions between adults or between adults and children.

The revised guidance on spacing also responds to one of the terms of the amended temporary restraining order issued on March 18 in A.A v. Newsom, a lawsuit where students sued six San Diego County school districts, Gov. Newsom and members of his COVID-19 response team on the grounds that the CDPH’s Jan. 14 guidance and framework infringed on their constitutional rights to an education. The ruling in A.A. v. Newsom left much of the Jan. 14 framework intact, but did render several items unenforceable, most notably the provisions that prohibited schools in purple tier counties from offering in-person instruction to students in grades seven through 12 and the requirement that student chairs be at least 4 feet apart.