LA Unified will not reopen campuses for back to school

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The Los Angeles campuses will not reopen for classes on August 18, and the country’s second school system will continue to learn online until further notice, due to the aggravation of the coronavirus, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday.The difficult decision has become inevitable in recent weeks, said Beutner, as coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in Los Angeles County, and the district can barely protect the health and safety of half a million people. ” Kindergarten to Grade 12 students and approximately 75,000 employees.

“Let me be clear,” Beutner said in an interview with The Times. “We all know that the best place for students to learn is in the school environment.” But he said, “We are going in the wrong direction. And as much as we want to be back in the schools and the students are back in the schools – we can’t do it until it’s safe and appropriate. ”

He added that it was important to inform families and district employees so that they could prepare for the impending start of the school year, just five weeks away.

The superintendent also called on county, state and federal authorities to direct and fund regular coronavirus testing and contact tracing. He said school districts also need clearer advice on when and how to reopen. Beutner estimated that it would cost $ 300 per year per person to test all students and staff once a week.

“The dollars are fading compared to the importance that schools will play in reopening what was the fifth largest economy in the world,” he said.

The decision contrasted two imperatives: the need to reduce health risks versus the need to send students back to classrooms – where experts say they will learn more effectively, while allowing their parents to resume a more routine work schedule, thus helping to stimulate a state economy in deep recession.

Other school systems in disparate regions across the country face the problem in different ways – partly because health conditions vary or because of political and philosophical differences over what should be given priority. In New York, the country’s largest school system, the campuses will partially reopen, with students returning less than five days a week. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the school system gives parents the choice to go online only or return to campus two days a week, combined with online education.

More and more school systems in California are choosing to keep campuses closed and reopen online only while health officials are sounding the alarm about the growing number of coronavirus cases.

In northern California, these districts include West Contra Costa County, East Side Union in San Jose, and the Oakland Unified School District.

In southern California, the school system in the city of San Bernardino cited “the recent and significant increase in COVID cases in our community” in its July 2 announcement that campuses would not reopen next month.

“After the start of the school year, and if and only when we can do it safely, we will start to offer in-person registration and support services to small groups of students and eventually move on to a hybrid or blended learning model, ”said Supt. Harold Vollkommer in a statement.

In LA County, recorded infections reached new daily highs and the infection rate for those tested was 10%. It fell to 4.6% in May.

“You wake up every morning and say, well, maybe it was a thing of a day,” said Beutner. “Maybe it was a thing of a week. Well, it’s been a month now… We’ve been thinking about this for a while, really since mid-June, since the health factors in the community started to go in the wrong direction, in a hurry.

In planning for the fall, school district officials across the region realized that some parents are not ready to send children back to campus: only a distance learning program is necessary for them.

However, the recent hope had been that LA Unified and other school systems could open for most families using a hybrid schedule, in which students would take part-time classes on campus in small socially distant groups, using a staggered schedule. They were going to combine this limited time on campus with an improved home study framework that included online and offline academic work.

Some school districts have always planned to take this route, but San Diego Unified, which was one of them, announced Monday morning that it would also be online only for the start of the semester. In this school system, the teachers’ union has opposed the reopening of plans in recent days, unhappy with the security measures.

The LA teachers’ union was more adamant. Management last week requested that the campuses remain closed. And 83% of teachers agreed in a one-day snapshot survey; approximately 56% of union members participated in this survey.

But even a staggered and limited calendar on campus would not meet the requirements of President Trump and the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. They have threatened to withhold federal funds from school districts that do not open campuses – although it is not clear that Trump would be able to carry out this threat.

Trump’s supporters include Republican Governor of Florida Rick DeSantis, who also threatened funding for school districts that don’t reopen campuses – despite a huge increase in infections and infection rates in that state. About 90% of school funding comes from state or local sources.

Supporters of the reopening of schools reported seemingly successful efforts in Taiwan, Norway and Denmark. Critics, however, have noted notable differences between the management and state of the pandemic in these countries and in the United States.

At the start of school, LA Unified will have had about five months to improve what it can do online: students have improved computers, Internet access and technical support. Teachers have received training for online teaching. And some familiar rituals will be restored: the teachers will be present and should follow the students’ learning every school day; students will receive grades.

But the uneven – often inadequate – home study environments will persist. Some parents are less able or unable to monitor students’ schoolwork at home. Experts warned that students most likely to fall behind would include those from low-income families, students learning English, and students with disabilities.

And childcare could remain a quagmire. Beutner said calling it a crisis would be an “understatement.”

The kids, he said, “contemplate a lifetime of consequences if we can’t get them back to school as soon as possible, but it has to be safe.” And what we cannot do is turn our schools into a giant petri dish and have irreparable consequences for the health and lives of the entire school community. ”

Beutner said he was particularly struck by a study in Italy that appeared to document the spread of coronavirus infection by people who had not yet had symptoms or had never had noticeable symptoms.

The school district, he said, was ready to take the initiative to prepare campuses for social remoteness and mask distribution, but it could not bear the burden of regular coronavirus testing and research. contacts.

Last week, LA County Director of Public Health, Barbara Ferrer, warned school districts that they should be ready to go 100% online for the start of the school year, but did not published directive.

“We are a passenger on the bus, like everyone else,” said Beutner. “If the spread gets worse, if the infection rate gets worse, we can watch, we can watch, but we can’t bend that. All we can do is keep it from getting worse by contributing to it. “

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