Insisting that safety is “non-negotiable,” Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a $2 billion plan Wednesday to get young students back to in-person learning as early as spring, although it was unclear how quickly such a move would occur in Southern California, which is being particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal calls for a “phased-in, in-person learning strategy that would focus disproportionately on those youngest cohorts and those that are most in need — our high-risk children, special education, those populations — foster care, homeless children — and others that need that extra amount of support,” Newsom said.

The plan would include $2 billion to bankroll safety measures at schools that return to in-person instruction, including COVID-19 testing and protective equipment. It calls for frequent testing of students and staff, masks for everyone on campus and prioritizing school staff for vaccinations.

Newsom’s proposal would begin with students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. And while the push is to resume in-person learning as much as possible, distance learning will still be available.

“Distance learning will still remain an option for parents and students,” he said. “There’s a lot of trepidation, we recognize that, a lot of anxiety, about going back into the classroom, which one has to clearly acknowledge. Not just for our teachers but also for our parents, particularly with kids who may have unique conditions.”

Despite the governor’s aggressive timeline, it was unclear how quickly students in the Southland might be in a position to return to classes on a widespread basis. The Los Angeles Unified School District recently canceled all in-person instruction on campuses in response to the current surge in cases.

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