Four months to the day after the Los Angeles Unified School District closed its campuses to in-person instruction, the District announced today that school campuses will remain closed when instruction resumes in August.
In a public statement issued jointly with the San Diego Unified School District this morning, LAUSD said the basis of the decision was the continuing surge of COVID-19 cases, as well as the recent reversal of a June recommendation by the American Association of Pediatrics, which had urged a return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
According to this morning’s statement, the decision also took into account guidelines from state and county leaders, as well as evolving research on COVID-19:
“Unfortunately, much of the research is incomplete and many of the guidelines are vague and contradictory. One fact is clear: those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.
Therefore, we are announcing that the new school year will start online only. Instruction will resume on August 18 in Los Angeles Unified and August 31 in San Diego Unified, as previously scheduled. Both districts will continue planning for a return to in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year, as soon as public health conditions allow.”
But the announcement goes on to note that District efforts to support families, teachers and students in other ways will definitely continue:
“In the past four months, we have provided more than 47 million meals to families, distributed more than 250,000 computers to students and trained more than 35,000 educators in online learning. In the weeks ahead, we plan to continue this breakneck pace.
- The school year will resume on schedule.
- Teachers will receive expanded training in online education to better meet the needs of students.
- Students will receive additional training at the start of the year to become better online learners.
- Online supports for parents will be increased to make it easier for them to participate in the education of their students.
- Principals will continue customized planning for the safest possible reopening this fall.
- Free meals will continue to be provided at the current distribution stations.”
Meanwhile, Superintendant Austin Beutner elaborated a bit in his weekly address to the public, saying:
“Public schools are the center of the community they serve and many challenges society face present themselves in schools, including those which Covid-19 has brought. We closed school facilities before there was any case of the virus at schools. That proved to be the right call. Science was our guide and will continue to be.”
He also said that although everyone is eager to resume in-person schooling:
“The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise. The news about the spread of the virus continues to be of great concern.
Last week was the worst yet in the Los Angeles area. The rate of those who tested positive for the virus is approaching 10%, well above the level of 5% the World Health Organization guidelines say is appropriate for communities to reopen…
The challenge for schools is how to strike the right balance between three sometimes conflicting objectives – the learning needs of students, the health and safety of all in the school community and the impact the virus is having on working families.”
Beutner noted that LAUSD has more than 75,000 employees serving almost 700,000 students, about 80% of whom are from families living in poverty. Also, 50% of LAUSD families have lost a job due to the pandemic.
That said, however, Beutner also acknowledged that many students are “struggling to learn online.” But at the moment, he said, health concerns take precedence, and even careful health and safety practices wouldn’t guarantee a safe return to in-person instruction at this time:
“Reopening schools will significantly increase the interaction between children and adults from different families. A 10-year-old student might have a 30-year-old teacher, a 50-year old bus driver or live with a 70-year-old grandmother. All need to be protected. There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish.
In one of our high schools, for example, the almost 2,900 students and staff have frequent contact with another 100,000 people.”
“The right way to reopen schools,” Beutner said, “is to make sure there is a robust system of testing and contact tracing to mitigate the risk for all in the school community,” and while officials are working toward that goal, the district’s systems are not yet at the levels where they could ensure student and staff safety.
More specifics of how the schools will operate when the fall term begins will be announced soon. For now, Beutner promised the following:
“Whether the instruction will be at schools or online, a team of educators is continuing to work around the clock to put in place plans for the new school year. Our commitment to students and their families is to provide the best possible education in the classroom – whether online or at school.
Online, this will include a regular schedule with standards-based instruction, including daily, live engagement between teachers and students. Regular assessments of student progress will be used by teachers to guide their work with students and keep families informed.
Where possible, schools will add instruction and one-on-one tutoring after school and on Saturday mornings to help students make up for lost time and accelerate their progress.”
More information will be provided before the August 18 opening date.