By Emily Hoeven
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is the name of a 2022 film, but it could also describe the cascade of changes confronting California schools as they welcome students back to campus after more than two years of pandemic-disrupted education.
Although many COVID restrictions have loosened — most schools have ended mandatory testing programs, made face masks optional and aligned with the state in delaying enforcement of student coronavirus vaccine mandates until July 1, 2023 at the earliest — districts are contending with plenty of other new policies. On top of that, they’re taking precautions against the low risk of monkeypox transmission on campus and helping kids catch up on delayed health screenings and immunizations.
One of the biggest shifts: a state law that went into effect July 1 requiring middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no later than 8:30 a.m, though campuses can also offer “zero period” classes earlier in the morning.
Supporters of the first-in-the-nation policy, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2019, cite what they say is “overwhelming research” showing that later school start times result in kids sleeping more, which improves their health and academic performance.
But some educators have warned that delaying school start times could have unintended consequences — a point corroborated by dispatches from districts complying with the law for the first time. Hurdles include:
- Interference with parents’ work schedules. “How are working parents supposed to drop kids off at the school?” Nelson Alarcon, the parent of a Los Angeles Unified high school student, asked the Los Angeles Times.
- Limited transportation. Many districts, already grappling with a severe shortage of bus drivers, are now finding it more difficult to stagger routes and schedules — prompting some, including Preuss Charter School in La Jolla, to eliminate bus service entirely for some grades. Now, some of the school’s low-income students of color are facing two-hour commutes on public transportation — prompting six kids to drop out, the San Diego-Union Tribune reports.
- Seemingly less time in the day. “As predicted, the new schedules do present challenges for students who work part-time jobs, are responsible for child care for siblings and who participate in sports and extracurricular activities,” Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, told the Mercury News. “It’s harder to recuperate after school when it’s dark by the time you get home and you have piles of work to do,” added Aiara Reyes, a senior at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara.
But others see promise in delaying school start times. Garden Grove Unified School District, for example, is expanding early morning programming to include free tutoring and sessions on art, fitness and mindfulness.
- Terri Shook, a special assignment teacher overseeing the district’s before- and after-school programs, told the Orange County Register: “We see this as an opportunity to offer programs for students that can address learning loss, social-emotional learning and offer enrichment opportunities.”
Among the other massive shifts in California’s public education system:
- The Golden State is beginning to phase in universal transitional kindergarten, which aims to eventually enroll all 4-year-olds in a bridge program between preschool and kindergarten. Kids turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 are eligible to attend this school year, though some districts are enrolling even younger students. Hampering the expansion, however, is California’s shortage of early childhood educators.
- California is also now offering two free school meals a day for all students, no questions asked.
- The state is investing billions of dollars in so-called community schools, which offer wraparound services such as mental health care, pediatric appointments and other social programs to students and their families. California in May approved a first round of grants worth $649 million, and plans to roll out more planning and implementation grants this school year.
- And last week, the state opened college savings accounts for low-income kids in K-12 public schools and for all infants born on or after July 1, 2022. While some applauded the move, others pointed out it that it duplicates existing programs.