In California: Newsom talks tough on reopening public schools; more details in Smart case

Plus: African bush viper bites San Diego Zoo employee; Visalia to proudly show off its woodies

I'm Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you the day's key headlines on this windy Wednesday.

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

Newsom wants to reopen public schools, but districts, teachers and parents resist

Bus driver Kevin Kreisler and Principal Carol Bishop of Harry S. Truman Elementary School practice their WELCOME for students returning to in-person learning.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that all California schools should reopen when the new academic year begins next fall. His frustration was evident: “Money is not an object now. It’s an excuse," he said. “I want all schools to reopen. I’ve been crystal clear about that.”

Newsom spoke at an elementary school in Santa Rosa that began welcoming students back this week. But his wishes remain an expectation rather than a mandate in California’s decentralized education system, where 1,200 school districts negotiate separately with teachers unions and ultimately govern themselves.

Facing political pressure and a recall effort, Newsom has said he plans to lift most of California's coronavirus restrictions on June 15 as part of reopening the state to business as usual. Earlier this month, he made a similar pronouncement, but many districts and teachers remain reluctant.

Newsom has repeatedly said he sees no barriers to getting the state's 6.2 million public school students back into classrooms now, as California's COVID-19 infections continue to drop and more residents are being vaccinated.

"If current trends and best practices continue, the next school year can begin with offering full in-person instruction to all students," the California Department of Health said in a presentation Wednesday that focused on school reopening. It specified that schools should plan to offer full days of instruction, five days a week.

A student on Feb. 18, 2021, in San Francisco.

‘How is this OK?’: Meanwhile, frustrated parents throughout the state, say that while students may be permitted to return to school in person, more than half will stick with distance learning.

Associated Press reports that Kira Gaber said she’s been told to send her kindergartner back to his San Francisco classroom with a laptop and headphones — while his teacher works online from home. “How is this OK? This is completely not in-person learning,” said Gaber, who doesn’t plan to send her son to class with a computer. “I’m going to send him with worksheets and a coloring book.”

Frustrated parents in San Francisco have even coined a new phrase for their latest classroom reality: "Zoom in a Room."

As vaccine eligibility expands, a flux in supply and demand

Jasmine Chan, left, chief operating officer at Central Avenue Pharmacy, provides a Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine to a First United Methodist Church member in Salinas, Calif., on Friday, April 9, 2021.

As more California counties open up vaccines to younger adults — tomorrow the state opens eligibility to everyone 16 and up — California public health officials warned of decreases in supply, the result of a national reduction of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The state has received about 2.4 million doses this week, and it expects 2 million next week and 1.9 million the week after. This is in addition to vaccines shipped directly to pharmacies and community health centers from the federal government.

This week, availability remains mixed, with some places reporting an excess of open appointments. Humboldt County in Northern California, for example, urged residents to make an appointment, saying that “hundreds of doses” were available through the weekend.

Similarly, a mass vaccination site at California State University, Los Angeles, announced it would take adults on a walk-up basis because of excess appointments. But by late Tuesday morning, the site was turning people away because of demand.

Here's what we know a day after Paul Flores' arrest in Kristin Smart's disappearance

This undated photo released by the FBI shows Kristin Smart, the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo student who disappeared in 1996.

Paul Flores will face first-degree murder charges in the 1996 disappearance of Stockton college student Kristin Smart, authorities say.

Police said they believed that Flores, now 44, had been attempting to rape Smart, his fellow Cal Poly student, when she was killed inside his dorm room. His father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, is charged with accessory to murder after the fact for helping to conceal Kristin’s body.

Both men were arrested Tuesday morning. The arraignment is set for Thursday.

“We’ve got physical evidence, we have witness statements, things that in our view in the totality bring us to the point where we believe we can go forward and prosecute Paul Flores for the murder of Kristin Smart,” San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said during a press conference Wednesday.

Smart's body has yet to be found, but authorities received evidence in the last month regarding a possible location where she was taken, Dow said. He also did not rule out a plea deal with Paul Flores in exchange for information leading to Smart’s remains.

African bush viper bites San Diego Zoo employee; no antivenom known

A venomous snake bit an employee at the San Diego Zoo Monday, according to zoo officials. A spokesperson for the zoo said the wildlife care specialist was immediately transported to a hospital for evaluation and treatment.

“Although the San Diego Zoo cares for a number of venomous reptiles, incidents like this are very rare, and the snake was contained at all times with no risk of an escape,” the zoo said in a statement.

The snake involved is an African bush viper, also known as Atheris squamigera. Native to parts of western and central Africa, their venom can cause fever, hemorrhaging and possibly death in humans, according to the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology website.

While there is no known antivenom for an African bush viper's venom, per the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, patients can be treated for their bites using antivenom created for other snakes' venom.

Visalia to proudly show off its woodies

Paul Buckwalter of Palmdale shows off his 1948 Ford Woodie shown during the seventh annual Woodies in the Valley car event featuring restored and full-hot rod Woodies on the front lawn of Redwood High School in Visalia.

And finally, if you're a fan of woodies — those vintage cars with their signature wooden frames that evoke images of surfers transporting their boards to and from the beach — you are in for a rare privilege.

The Central Valley Woodie Club will be sponsoring its 15th annual Woodies in the Valley, an all-woodies car show, Friday and Saturday in Visalia. A sampling of the vehicles from 1928 to 1951, including original, restored and full hot-rod woodies, will be on display.

For more information on the event, visit or contact Wayne Yada, president of the Central Valley Woodie Club, at (559) 967-1357 or

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Associated Press. We'll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.

As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newsom wants to reopen public schools; Kristin Smart murder case update