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With COVID-19 cases diminishing and the county poised to enter the red tier of state public health orders, local school administrators are moving quickly to ensure necessary conditions are met before students return to campus for in-person instruction.
Los Angeles County public health officials announced on March 9 that the number of COVID-19 cases has lowered to a level that will allow the region to enter the state’s red tier, which state guidelines require before all grade levels can reopen for in-person instruction. The county is currently at the highest tier, purple.
If virus positivity rates continue on the current trajectory, Los Angeles County is expected to meet requirements for moving into the red tier by March 17.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles announced an agreement on March 9 paving the way for elementary schools to reopen by mid-April, and middle schools and high schools by the end of April. The district will use a hybrid model allowing elementary school parents to choose whether they want their children to stay with virtual instruction or transition back to in-person classes. Secondary students will continue daily online instruction but will be allowed to return to campus for peer interaction, social and emotional learning, and lessons for college and career exploration, according to the district.
Many conditions must also be met before students are allowed to return to campuses, including having ample protective equipment on site and cleaning protocols in place. All school staff must have access to COVID-19 vaccinations. Rules also stipulate that all students and staff be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning, with weekly testing provided once classes resume. Everyone entering an LAUSD campus will be required to wear a mask and physical distancing will be enforced.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said the agreement is a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic normalcy.
“The agreement provides for the reopening of schools when Los Angeles County is in the red tier according to the state school guidelines, that all staff have access to the COVID vaccine and that schools are kept clean and safe,” Beutner and Myart-Cruz said in a joint statement. “As we have both stated for some time, the right way to reopen schools must include the highest standard of COVID safety in schools, continued reduction of the virus in the communities we serve and access to vaccinations for school staff. This agreement achieves that shared set of goals. It’s our shared commitment to the highest safety standards and spirit of trust and collaboration we will take with us back to schools.”
The LAUSD Board of Education also remains committed to ensuring proper safety conditions are met before classes resume.
“In-person instruction shouldn’t only be afforded to those who can afford it,” LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin said. “Finally, we’ve reached a deal with our teachers’ union to provide every family with the option to safely return to school. I am grateful that all students will have the chance to be in person with their teachers and peers soon.”
Many private campuses have already reopened under waivers available from the county, including Stratford School and Pilgrim School. Others are planning to welcome students back soon. At Cathedral Chapel School in the Miracle Mile, students in kindergarten through second grade will return on March 22, and students in the third through sixth grades will be back in classrooms on March 29. Parents were given a choice whether to have their children continue learning at home or return to school.
“We are working hard to make all the necessary preparations for a safe return to CCS,” Principal Tina Kipp said in a statement to the school community. “It is our hope that we will all continue to do the right thing by masking, social distancing and washing our hands so that our cases will continue to go down. We need to be extremely vigilant, particularly because different variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to be discovered.”
Fears about a potential resurgence of the virus have complicated plans to return to campus, and some still have trepidation. While the LAUSD was locked in negotiations with the teachers union and health orders remained in flux, little information was being shared about what people can expect, some said. Aris Biegler, a math teacher at Fairfax High School and the campus representative for UTLA, said he had very little information about exactly when classes would resume and what plans are in place.
“I think the teachers are excited to go back. I know I am,” Biegler said. “But we don’t know what to expect and we aren’t getting much information. There are a lot of questions.”
Biegler added while there are many important factors to the equation, returning to school is important for academic and social growth, particularly for high school students.
“Just to have a relationship with students is important. I have students who I haven’t seen all year and haven’t completed any work and all I can really do is tell their parents,” Biegler said. “But if you saw that kid, you might be able to connect with them and start a dialogue and see what’s going on. It’s very different. Teaching is relationships.”
Parents also have questions about what awaits their children when in-person instruction resumes. Shanon Trygstad, who has a fifth grader at Hancock Park Elementary School and a ninth grader at the Girls Academic Leadership Academy on the Los Angeles High School campus, said she is eager for her daughters to return but remains uncertain.
“I fully support schools reopening but from a parent’s standpoint, there is a lot that needs to be worked out,” said Trygstad, who is also president of Friends of Hancock Park Elementary, a booster club for the school. “My husband and I have been vaccinated, but I’m scared because I don’t know what my children will be exposed to. I’m very open to the concept of sending them back but I would like to understand exactly what’s going on and I would like some more information.”
LAUSD officials plan to release more information about reopening as it becomes available. Local lawmakers are also supporting the reopening efforts. On March 3, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, introduced a resolution calling for the state, county and city to do whatever is necessary to provide vaccinations and secure protective equipment to ensure classes resume by mid-April. Koretz added that he would like a larger percentage of vaccines going to education, higher than the 10% of doses currently being set aside by the state for education employees.
“The students of Los Angeles have been without in-person learning for nearly nine months, and the academic, social and emotional impacts of isolation and remote learning may prove to have deleterious effects on their overall well-being,” Koretz said. “It is my personal belief that getting the schools open is a major priority, but we must do everything we can to ensure their safety and the safety of instructors and faculty in the process.”
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