Essential California: The new schools plan

An LAUSD school bus with a bunch of traffic cones in front of it in a parking lot
LAUSD opened the nation’s largest vaccination site specifically for education employees at SoFi stadium Monday morning.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 2, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

After weeks of negotiations and almost a year of distance learning, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislative leaders announced an agreement Monday to offer schools $2 billion in incentives to reopen elementary campuses. The proposal is expected to pass in the Legislature on Thursday. It stops short of mandating that schools must reopen, with that decision ultimately still a local one. Parents will also have the right to keep their children at home and learning virtually, if they choose to do so.

[Read the story: “Newsom, legislators strike deal to offer schools $2 billion in incentives to reopen campuses” in the Los Angeles Times]

As my Sacramento colleagues Taryn Luna and John Myers report, the plan would prioritize California’s youngest students first, aiming to incentivize districts across the state to return transitional kindergarten through second-grade students to the classroom by April 1. Those incentives would be offered in counties with fewer than 25 new daily confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents — a threshold almost all California counties currently meet.


“We expect that all of our TK-to-2 classrooms open within the next month,” Newsom said Monday. “We want to see more happen beyond that,” the governor continued, saying that counties in the state’s red tier, with seven or fewer cases per 100,000 residents, would be required to extend classroom learning to all elementary school students and at least one grade of middle or high school to access all available funds.

[Read more: “California’s $2-billion school reopening plan: What you need to know” in the Los Angeles Times]

What else to know

As Taryn and John report, the fiercest aspect of the reopening debate has centered on whether COVID-19 vaccinations would be required for educators before returning to classrooms. This legislation does not make vaccinations for teachers and staff a precondition for reopening — something that teachers unions had fought for, and Newsom had balked at. But the vaccine supply for educators is still ramping up significantly.

Starting this week, the state will set aside 10% of its weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses for educators, as announced by Newsom last month. Public health officials said Monday that the state is on course to surpass Newsom’s initial estimate of providing at least 75,000 weekly vaccine doses.

Here in Los Angeles, Austin Beutner — the superintendent of the nation’s second-largest school district — hailed the increase in available doses and praised Newsom for making school staff vaccinations “a priority.” As my education reporter colleague Howard Blume reports, state and local officials confirmed Monday morning that Los Angeles Unified will get the COVID-19 vaccines it needs by the end of next week to inoculate staff and reopen its elementary school campuses.

But LAUSD officials hedged on a previously announced target reopening date of April 9, shifting instead to “mid-April,” which would probably be closer to when employees reach “maximum immunity” after their second dose. As Howard reports, a return to LAUSD campuses could also be significantly delayed by ongoing negotiations with employee unions.

[Read more: “Firm teachers union stance means LAUSD will be slower to reopen than other parts of state” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Although the state’s coronavirus numbers have plummeted to levels not seen in months, Newsom acknowledged that “we are seeing a little bit of a plateau.” As the state moves forward with wider reopenings, the darkest days of California’s winter coronavirus surge are shrinking in the rearview mirror, prompting new optimism — as well as continued pleas for vigilance. Los Angeles Times

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Why not use pandemic-emptied buildings as homeless shelters? One woman is trying. Los Angeles Times

A new lawsuit alleges L.A., Santa Monica and Beverly Hills used curfews to crush legitimate protest: More than 40 people arrested in Los Angeles County for curfew violations during last summer’s mass protests have alleged in a new lawsuit that the curfews were an unconstitutional and coordinated tactic by the county, several local cities and their police forces to stifle legitimate political speech against police violence. Los Angeles Times

How did a home built for Japanese American seniors become the state’s deadliest nursing facility? Kei-Ai Los Angeles in Lincoln Heights was one of 27 nursing homes participating in a little-publicized county program that allows nursing facilities to volunteer to receive COVID patients from hospitals and other nursing facilities. Los Angeles Times

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Donations to the campaign to recall Newsom are coming in from across the country: “Someone from nearly every state in the country has donated money to recall the California governor, excluding Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The most frequent donations come from Texas, Nevada, Florida, Arizona and New York.” Sacramento Bee

This tiny California city has been rocked by corruption scandals. Will charges bring change to Maywood? Los Angeles Times


A Sacramento doctor appeared in traffic court via video call while performing surgery: “Yes, I’m in an operating room right now. Yes, I’m available for trial. Go right ahead,” the man told a courtroom clerk. Associated Press

Three Zoom windows with a judge, a doctor and a police officer, all in uniform and in separate windows
A Zoom conference collage shows Dr. Scott Green, top right, appearing from an operating room on Thursday for a Sacramento County Superior Court trial, which was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Associated Press)

Blackface or acne medication? A pair of teenage boys and their parents filed a $20-million lawsuit against an exclusive Mountain View high school, saying school officials forced the boys out last year over an alleged blackface photo that they say actually showed green acne medication face masks. San Francisco Chronicle


Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ultra-low temperature research freezer is enlisted in the vaccine fight: After several months on loan to a Salinas medical center, the freezer has been moved to a South Monterey County hospital, enabling that hospital to distribute the Pfizer vaccine for the first time. King City Rustler


Oscar Wilde’s 1882 visit to San Francisco sent the city into a bitter, clamoring frenzy. The city was split into two camps, “those who thought Wilde was an engaging speaker and an original thinker, and those who thought he was the most pretentious fraud ever perpetrated on a groaning public.” SF Gate

From the annals of suburban HOA scandals: An Orange County banker paid a prominent photo-realism artist $23,000 to repaint her garage doors to resemble a rusted steel patina. Suffice it to say, her homeowners association was less than pleased. Orange County Register

Put away your textbooks and pull out your cellphones: Some of the best Black history lessons are happening on TikTok. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Tuesday: “Rhubarb” by Sheila Packa. The Writer’s Almanac

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Los Angeles: sunny, 75. San Diego: sunny, 72. San Francisco: partly sunny, 61. San Jose: partly sunny, 70. Fresno: partly sunny, 73. Sacramento: partly sunny, 72.


Today’s California memory comes from Ken Britten:

With the news of Fry’s demise, I am remembering my first visit to their Palo Alto location. I was a researcher in a new physiology lab at Stanford in 1987, and we were doing a lot of the wiring ourselves. It was a great store, had everything we’d need and a lot more. But what struck me the most was the array of temptations by the checkout line. It prominently featured snack foods and porno magazines, capturing the eccentricities of Silicon Valley culture in a simple vignette.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.