A sign outside closed Westview High School in Torrey Highlands. Courtesy Poway Unified School District

California schools could reopen for an earlier academic year, perhaps as soon as late July, to make up for lost learning time, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in laying out a course for easing his shelter-in-place order.

Pointing to the state’s stable hospitalization data, the governor delivered hopeful news for throngs of parents struggling with distance learning and “cautious optimism” that some retailers and manufacturers may be able to reopen with modifications in a matter of weeks.

The administration on Tuesday laid out a four-step plan to help resuscitate California’s economy while keeping everyone safe. As the state continues to acquire more masks and protective gear, Newsom said California could gradually reopen low-risk workplaces, allowing more workers back to their jobs — provided there are enough precautions such as curbside pickup at retail stores.

Schools and childcare facilities would have to be an essential part of that effort for working parents.

Newsom, the father of four young children, said he recognized how schoolchildren have suffered a significant learning setback since schools closed in March. He’s hoping the notion of opening schools, preschools and child care centers a few weeks earlier can help make up for some of that loss.

“We are considering the prospect of an even earlier school year … as early as late July or early August,” Newsom said.

School administrators shared Newsom’s concern about lost learning but suggested a lot more work still has to happen before reopening schools.

“As we know there are significant issues around safety, instruction, resources, regulatory relief, and labor-management agreements that must be addressed for us to reopen schools regardless of the start date.” said Wesley Smith, director of the Association of California School Administrators

One lawmaker said summer school is the better way to go.

“While learning loss is an important issue, summer school will play an even larger role in helping students get up to speed on their education,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

Newsom hopes to ease current restrictions through a new statewide order. Once that happens, his administration says cities and counties may choose to relax local orders at their own pace, meaning there could be different rules in different parts of the state.

But he said lifting restrictions too quickly could trigger a second wave of coronavirus infections. “That can be more damaging than the first and undo all the good work and progress,” the governor said.

Once low-risk businesses and schools find a way to resume, the administration will turn to opening higher-risk areas, such as hair and nail salons, movie theaters, weddings and religious spaces.

Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the Department of Public Health, indicated in her presentation that the state is unlikely to allow mass gatherings such as concerts, conventions and live audience sports until medical treatments have been developed.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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