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Bay Area Headlines: Wednesday, 5/13/20, AM

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California State Cancels In-Person Classes / University of California Proposes Suspension Of Standardized Test Requirement / Community Colleges Sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos / New Guidelines For Reopening Restaurants / State Faces Scrutiny Over Contracts For Protective Equipment

California State Cancels In-Person Classes

In-person classes are canceled at California State University’s 23 campuses this fall. 

Students will continue to attend classes online for the fall, with some exceptions made for laboratory classes and training for students entering healthcare careers. Chancellor Timothy White made the announcement during a Board of Trustees meeting.

The California State University system is one of the largest public university systems in the country. In addition to CSU schools and Sacramento State, the Los Rios Community College District has also announced that fall classes will be online-only.

University of California Proposes Suspension Of Standardized Test Requirement

COVID-19 has also prompted the University of California President Janet Napolitano to propose doing away with the system’s standardized test requirement. 

Right now, a lot of high schooIers who want to apply for college this fall should be taking their SATs or ACT. But, because of COVID-19, The College Board, which administers the tests, canceled spring exams. So the UC system suspended the test requirement for its Fall 2021 applicants.

Now University of California President Napolitano is proposing that the UC system take this current opportunity to either create their own test that better assesses California students or get rid of testing requirements altogether by 2025. The Board of Regents will vote on her proposal at its May 21 meeting.

Community Colleges Sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

California Community colleges are suing federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for blocking undocumented students, among others, from receiving emergency financial aid during the COVID-19 crisis.

When Congress enacted a giant financial aid package named CARES late March, it included billions of dollars for higher education. About $580 million was supposed to go to California’s community colleges and its students.

The money was meant to help the schools transition to online teaching. Some of it was also supposed to go directly to students to help cover their costs as they shelter in place.

But the Chancellor of the Community Colleges of California says that education secretary Betsy DeVos is implementing qualifying requirements that block non-citizens from receiving any money from the aid package. 

So he and five community college districts are suing DeVos in a federal district court.

The chancellor estimates that as many as 800,000 California community college students are affected.

New Guidelines For Reopening Restaurants

Restaurants in California can’t reopen their dining rooms until the state has told their counties they can move into phase two of reopening their economies. While most of the Bay Area isn’t quite there yet, Bob Moffitt reports there are 11 pages of guidelines for restaurants elsewhere to consider.

Butte and El Dorado were the first counties approved to enter stage two recovery. Restaurant staff are under state order to wear a face covering if they come within six feet of a customer. The guidelines follow very clear themes: everything and everyone should be six feet apart, hands should be washed, and shared items should be sanitized after every use.

Governor Gavin Newsom says there is no mandate as to how many people could be in a restaurant once it would be allowed to reopen.

“Some have said, well it should be opened in the first phase at just 25 percent capacity. Others said 30. Some said 50. We decided not to be prescriptive in that perspective. We worked with our health officials to provide flexibility on spacing. What we want is physical distancing.”

To obtain that, restaurants are encouraged to create traffic patterns for employees and customers to follow so that they don’t pass each other. Restaurants should also remove tables, encourage curbside pickup, or ask customers to wait in their cars until their tables are ready. The governor says no two counties are going to be the same.

To limit the spread of the virus should it find its way into a restaurant, the state encourages staff to wear gloves when bagging used napkins. Face shields and impermeable aprons should be used by dishwashers. Menus should be disposable, The guidelines discourage the continued use of the "your table’s ready" buzzer, pre-rolled napkins and silverware, and no more bottles of shared ketchup and mustard.

State Faces Scrutiny Over Contracts For Protective Equipment

California's top emergency official defended the state on Monday over failed, high-priced deals for personal protective equipment. He said taxpayers have not lost money.

California has spent roughly $2.2 billion on 180 contracts for items including face masks, shields, and gowns without a competitive bidding process, according to state officials. Several of the deals for face masks were canceled after money had been wired. That prompted lawmakers to call an oversight hearing on the contracting process amid the coronavirus.

One of the state deals facing scrutiny is with the Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD which pivoted to making face masks. The state has been refunded nearly a quarter billion dollars due to delayed federal certification of the masks. The state expects the certification will pass next month and California will still get the hundreds of millions of tight-fitting N95 masks it ordered. The company has already shipped tens of millions of looser-fitting surgical masks under the deal.

The state has since implemented a more robust process for vetting the massive amount of offers it gets for protective gear amid the pandemic — nearly 8,000 in just over a month, according to an official. While lawmakers have asked pointed questions on the deals, several involved in the hearing said they understood the pressure the state has been under to secure gear that can save lives.