In his weekly community address this morning, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner echoed the dire news we’ve been hearing about the current COVID-19 surge from state and county health officials, and announced that because of the current numbers, LAUSD campuses will not re-open in January, and all instruction will remain online for the time being.
As other news outlets have reported in the last couple of days, Beutner said the virus surge in Los Angeles has become so dire the area is now considered to be the “epicenter” for COVID-19 in the U.S. Test posivity rates are at 11.8% with 131.6 cases per 100,000 people per day…higher than the overall rate for the state of California, or – for that matter – for any other entire state except Tenessessee.
Because of these statistics, Beutner said that although LAUSD has been working hard on plans for re-opening schools, including distancing protocols, sanitizing facilities, and installing new ventilation systems, “we can’t reopen schools until the virus is at much lower levels.”
Also, he noted that the decision on when to re-open isn’t something the district can arbitrarily decide, because it is bound by state and County rules. “In effect,” Beutner said, “the front door of the school has a COVID-19 lock on it, and schools don’t have the key to the lock. State and County health authorities do.”
In the meantime, Beutner said, LAUSD is contributing lots of data to the state’s tracking efforts, via its school-based COVID-19 testing program, which is open to all LAUSD students, parents and employees, and which will remain in operation over winter break. The tests are free for all parties, and results are usually available within 24 hours.
But this data, too, is alarming right now, Beutner said, with one in 10 children currently testing positive, even though they have no symptoms.
And all of this, Beutner said, means we’re “a long way from re-opening schools.” Currently, as shown below, LA County’s seven-day average is more than 14,000 cases per day…and according to official guidelines, that number would have to be down to 700-800 cases per day, for a full month, before schools can re-open for in-person instruction. And that means, based on numbers alone, it is “not possible to re-open before the next semester starts in January” and “we will remain in online-only mode until community health conditions improve significantly.”
In slightly better news this morning, Beutner reported that LAUSD and United Teachers LA, the union that represents the District’s teachers, have reached an agreement on how to improve access and instruction for students when they do return to online school in the new year. Those changes will include additional minutes of “synchronous” online instruction one day per week, additional office hours in which students can meet with teachers outside of class time, and additional professional development for teachers.
“To put it mildly,” Beutner said, balancing the needs of all parties involved right now, including more than 650,000students and 75,000 staff members, is not simple. But he said the District is guided by several bedrock principles:
Also, Beutner said, the district is working on plans to help students make up lost time and learning both during and after the pandemic. First, as has already been reported, any student failing a fall-semester class will now have until the end of January to make up any missing work. Second, he said, because students are facing “unprecedented challenges” right now, there will be other credit recovery options offered later in the year. And, finally, the district is also making plans to make in-person instruction available to every student over the summer, if state and local protocols allow it by then.
Finally, although instruction will remain entirely online for now, Beutner stressed that LAUSD’s Grab and Go food distribution program, which has given out more than 90 million meals since March, will continue during winter break. Food will be available from Monday-Wednesday this week, and though distribution centers will be closed for the holiday on Thursday and Friday, additional meals will be available for pickup on Wednesday – including donations from See’s Candies – to help people through the rest of the week. LAUSD also has a special holiday recipe book online, featuring six recipes celebrating the foods and cultures of the city’s diverse public school community.
Beutner’s full address from this morning is available here: