Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will remain closed when classes resume next month amid a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Southern California, Superintendent Austin Beutner said today.
“While the new school year will begin in August, it will not start with students at school facilities,'' Beutner said. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise.''
The announcement comes a few days after the union representing the district's teachers announced results of a poll they conducted that showed 83% of instructors are opposed to resuming in-person classes.
“Reopening schools will significantly increase interactions between children and adults from different families,'' he said. “In one of our high schools, for example, the almost 2,900 students and staff have frequent contact with another 100,000 people.''
The San Diego Unified School District also announced it will begin the new school year with online-only classes. In a joint statement with LAUSD, the districts acknowledged schools have reopened in other parts of the world, but that conditions are different in Southern California.
“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,'' according to the statement. “The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.''
The plan is to eventually return to in-person classes, but no timeline was provided. Teachers will be provided "expanded training in online education" and students will receive training to "become better online learners," according to the statement from the districts.
“While the school year will begin without students at school facilities, our goal is to welcome students back to school as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so,'' the superintendent said. “I wish we had a crystal ball, but we don't. We will continue to do the best we can with the information we have at the time.''
While President Donald Trump has insisted recently that schools reopen in the fall, even threatening the federal government might withhold funding from districts that refuse to resume in-person classes, Beutner says the should allocate money to schools for testing and contact tracing, which would be key in reopening schools safely.
“Testing and contact tracing will cost money. Preliminary estimates in Los Angeles Unified would cost $300 per student over the course of the year to test students and staff every week as well as family members of those who test positive for the virus,'' he said. The cost of such testing all at public schools across the country would be an estimated $15 billion to cover all 50 million students in the United States.
“Federal officials have recently suggested students need to be in school, and like a Nike ad, told educators: `Just do it.' We all know the best place for students to learn is a school setting,'' Beutner said. “Well, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz might have said, `Tap your heels together three times and say there's no place like home, and you'll be there' – actually returning to schools is not so simple.''
No matter the cost, Beutner said the issue is not one that can be measured in dollars and cents.
“It's about creating opportunity for children. A good education is a path out of poverty for the students we serve and the promise of a better future for all of them,'' he said, noting that Los Angeles Unified's 75,000 employees serve almost 700,000 students, about 80% of those are from families living in poverty.