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CDE Currents: May/June 2020

Tony’s Message

Tony Thurmond

Schools across California are finishing their academic years under circumstances we never could have imagined. At the same time, educators and our team at the California Department of Education (CDE) have been working around the clock to reimagine what the new school year could look like during this pandemic.

Earlier this month, I was proud to announce, on behalf of our team at CDE, the release of our guidance document, “Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools.” This guidance is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all mandate but, rather, a “how to” set of tools and planning considerations as schools work with their local public health experts and families to navigate next steps. Everyone is wondering what classrooms, teaching, and learning might look like as our response to this pandemic evolves, and this guidance document—using the best and latest information we have right now—provides a multitude of options and scenarios to meet the diverse learning needs of 6.2 million California students.

As we plan to possibly welcome students back to campuses this fall, we must recognize that they have experienced and continue to deal with intense emotional distress and trauma. Many students are feeling isolated, disconnected, and depressed. Thousands of students have not checked in with their teachers since school campuses closed three months ago, and many more are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. For these reasons, I have called on counseling groups across California to work together in a coordinated effort to expand services that can close gaps in mental health supports for students experiencing increased levels of trauma exacerbated by the pandemic. Counseling and mental health groups that want to help are asked to email

It is important to also acknowledge that our students, like all of us, are struggling with grief and anger in response to the death of George Floyd and the issues of racism, implicit bias, and injustice surrounding this tragedy. As all of our public institutions reckon with this moment, I believe it is time to accelerate our efforts to dismantle systemic racism in education. At CDE, we have received a $500,000 philanthropic grant to train all of our agency’s 2,200 employees in implicit bias and to create guidance for school districts across California. This is just one step, but an important one, to keep addressing the persistent inequities students of color have faced for decades in public education. And with education as a foundation for this work, I believe we can lead beyond schools; we are currently convening leaders of statewide and national law enforcement organizations, elected officials, civic community leaders, and more.

It’s clear the challenges before us will not get easier any time soon, and there are times when this work may seem insurmountable. But I believe that we can not only do great things if we come together; we can finish stronger, and more resilient, than where we began. Thank you for all that you do to support the success of California’s students each and every day.

Tony Thurmond's Signature

Back to School—Safely

Back to school carousel

CDE Releases Guidance Document for the Reopening of Schools in 2020

No one expected to finish the school year this way. A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic changed the process of learning nearly overnight, prompting schools to physically close and forcing teachers to take a crash-course in distance learning and acting as a virtual connection to millions of children at home. It’s taken a heavy emotional toll on nearly everyone—students, educators, and parents—and many are wondering when it will be time to go back.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is committed to supporting public school leaders statewide as they work with local health officials to safely return students to the classroom this fall. Earlier this month, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the release of "Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safer Opening of California’s Public Schools,” which offers considerations and examples of solutions for schools as they work to implement public health recommendations in an educational environment.

The CDE’s guidebook—which was developed using the most current information known at the time and may be updated as new data becomes relevant—covers health and safety practices; instructional programs and models, including for special education and English learners; professional relationships and learning; mental health and well-being for staff and students; community engagement and parental support; early learning and care; and school services such as transportation and meals. The guidance document can be found on the CDE Stronger Together web page.

“The intent of this document is to be a guide for local discussion on reopening schools. It is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that prescribes every solution for an individual school or district,” Thurmond said. “The document provides a checklist of considerations and potential solutions as LEAs work in close consultation with their communities and health officers on next steps.”

The guidance document recommends face coverings for students and staff at all times (at school or on a bus), physical distancing (at least six feet of spacing between seats and in hallways and on buses), and regular symptom screening for students and staff.

The document also provides in-depth considerations for designing equitable instructional practices for all learners while arranging students and staff in the many new ways that will be needed in order to facilitate physical distancing guidelines.

The CDE guidance document was created with the technical assistance and advice of health and safety organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control, the California Department of Public Health, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and many health officers from counties across the state.

Thurmond and the CDE gathered additional input from focus group conversations with teachers, classified staff, child care providers, superintendents, and public health officials. Important voices were heard during virtual support circles with educators, parents, and students. And additional insight came from consultation with state superintendents, researchers, and experts from throughout the nation.

Of course, in order to implement the guidance, school leaders will need steady revenue to rely upon for staffing and personal protective equipment and flexibility on instructional minutes. Thurmond and the CDE are engaged in dialogue with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Finance, the Legislature, and educational stakeholders regarding the resources necessary to reopen safely with physical distancing measures in place.

“For many of us, this is the toughest challenge that we’ll ever face, perhaps in our lifetime,” Thurmond said. “We know that guidance is only as good as its implementation, so think of this as the beginning of the conversation—not the end.”

School Attendance Teams: Using Established and New Strategies to Keep Students Engaged, Connected, and Learning

Jennie Kosters La Briola Nuview Union School District

Jennie Kosters-La Briola, Nuview Union School District

During the school closures, districts had to quickly adjust traditional attendance practices to accompany the new distance learning model and ensure that students were engaged and participating. Some schools asked parents/caregivers to fill out online daily forms, other schools called families weekly or sent emails and texts, and some schools interacted with students every day through virtual classrooms.

As districts worked out the best practices for their school communities under this new normal, the need to maintain communication and a connection with students and their families was critical. School attendance was an area where that type of connection was already an established practice and school administration could leverage and expand upon existing methods to keep students engaged.

In March, the CDE recognized 14 School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs) throughout the state that had exemplary attendance programs as Model SARBs. These districts were selected using criteria that included multi-tiered support methods; restorative strategies; and creating effective intervention practices such as collaboration between students, families, school staff, and community resources. Using innovative strategies, these Model SARBs were able to reduce chronic absenteeism numbers in their districts. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond praised the work of these districts in a recent announcement and said that these model programs are examples that other districts throughout the state can review now and when schools reopen.

The leadership and expertise of school attendance teams will be needed as districts create school reopening plans. In the CDE school reopening guidance titled “Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools,” districts are encouraged to develop a system to connect with students and families to promote attendance and engage with students and families using culturally responsive techniques. (The CDE schools reopening guidance can be found on the CDE Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response web page.) For some students, attendance before COVID-19 was an issue, and many teachers reported there are students they did not hear from once schools closed. As districts create their reopening plans, attendance practices are an integral component to make sure students do not slip through the cracks.

Under Assembly Bill 2815, which became effective on January 1, 2017, the role of district supervisors of attendance was expanded to include more effective practices that are relevant for both regular school attendance and distance learning. These changes in attendance practices promote a culture of attendance and promote improving local systems to accurately track student attendance by grade level and student subgroup. For more information on the identified duties of attendance supervisors in California Education Code sections 48240 to 48244, visit the CDE Child Welfare and Attendance web page.

Another resource for schools is Attendance Works, a Bay Area-based nonprofit research organization that works with school districts throughout the country on strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism rates. Attendance Works has created a comprehensive guide titled, “Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absenteeism in the COVID Era.” Districts can find tips and tools that can assist in establishing effective intervention methods to use with students and their families. A link to the guide is available on the Attendance Works website External link opens in new window or tab.. Both Hedy Chang and Cecelia Leong from Attendance Works have been appointed by State Superintendent Thurmond as experts on the State SARB, which makes annual recommendations to him about effective practices to engage students and families and to reduce the number of dropouts in the state public education system. You can find more information on the State SARB on the CDE School Attendance Review Boards web page.

Districts that have questions regarding effective, multi-tiered practices to improve student attendance or engagement should feel free to contact the Model SARB chairperson closest to them for technical assistance in the prevention tier, early intervention tier, or the intensive intervention tier of attendance support.

Below is a list of the 14 Model SARB Districts and their SARB chairpersons:

Closing the Digital Divide

A statewide effort will bring learning home for all students

Closing the Digital Divide with map of California.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, the California Department of Education (CDE), and the Closing the Digital Divide Task Force are dedicated to closing persistent technology gaps impacting the state’s most vulnerable students. Hundreds of thousands of students in schools throughout the state are still without the necessary devices and internet access needed to participate in distance learning along with their peers.

Here's an update on some of the ways we have been working on #closingthedigitaldivide:

  • 1,981 tech surveys have been completed.
  • We are partnering with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon as well as cities, local educational agencies, and other California state agencies to close the digital divide.
  • 38,591 tech devices have been shipped and 64,000 mobile hotspots deployed to 269 districts, schools, and county offices.
  • CDE will be granting $5 million to local educational agencies to purchase 20,000 more devices or hotspots. The funds are from the California Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund.
  • We worked with internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to expand their services and called upon them and other internet service providers to limit constraints to access.
  • We created the Californians Bridging the Digital Divide Fund with the CDE Foundation toaccept individual contributions : External link opens in new window or tab.

Laptops being transferred using forklift


CDE Currents is the monthly newsletter from the California Department of Education. It is written and produced by CDE employees.

Editor: Scott Roark
Co-Editors: Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Katina Oliphant
Writers: Cynthia Butler, Dan Thigpen, Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Scott Roark

Design and Layout: Scott Roark
Illustration: Jesse Nix
Web Production: CDE Web Services Office

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Questions:   Communication |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 25, 2020