California could start new school year as early as July

Schools in California have been closed since the coronavirus lockdown began, although classes for most of the state's 6.1 million pupils have continued online (AFP Photo/JUSTIN SULLIVAN)

Los Angeles (AFP) - California may start the new school year as early as July to make up for some of the "learning loss" due to the pandemic, the state's Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

"We recognize there's been a learning loss because of this disruption," Newsom told reporters. "And so we are considering an even earlier school year into the fall, as early as late July, early August."

Schools in California, the most populous US state, have been closed since the lockdown against the coronavirus began in March. However, classes for most of the state's 6.1 million pupils have continued online.

Newsom said any decision to reopen schools will need to take into account physical and environmental changes that will have to be implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said some schools may even be able to offer summer programs once the state begins to lift stay-at-home restrictions.

Newsom's announcement on Tuesday came as he outlined a roadmap for one of the largest economies in the world to gradually reopen for business.

He cautioned that although Californians have overwhelmingly respected physical distancing and the stay-at-home order, any progress could be undone instantly should people fail to continue to be cautious.

"We believe we are weeks, not months, away from making meaningful modifications" to the stay-at-home order, he said.

But he vowed that any decision to ease restrictions will take into account progress on many levels, including testing and hospitalizations.

"Politics will not drive our decision-making, protests won't drive our decision-making, political pressure will not drive our decision-making," Newsom said. "The science, the data, public health will drive our decision-making."

Under the four-phase plan to end the shutdown outlined by Newsom and health officials, the state will gradually reopen for business over the coming months or longer.

Phase one, which is currently in place, calls for taking measures to ensure the essential workforce environment is as safe as possible.

The second phase would allow certain non-essential, lower-risk businesses to reopen. It would also allow for parks and trails to be more accessible to the public and for the new school year to start earlier.

The third phase, which is likely months away, will include the reopening of businesses that require proximity, like hair or nail salons.

The final phase calls for an end to the stay-at-home order and entails the reopening of the highest risk workplaces.

Newsom did not provide a timetable for his roadmap.

His announcement came as states across the country have begun to consider easing restrictions imposed because of the outbreak that has so far killed nearly 60,000 Americans and shattered the economy.