LOS ANGELES (CNS) - For the first time in more than a year, some Los Angeles Unified schools will reopen for in-person classes today.
Safety standards and mandatory COVID-19 testing of students will be in place, though many parents are opting to keep their kids learning from home.
Coronavirus countermeasures at schools include free testing for students and staff on site each week at all 61 elementary schools and 11 early education enters set to open in stages starting this week.
Remaining elementary schools and early education centers will open next week; and middle and high schools will open the week of April 26.
“Our commitment has always been to reopen schools in the safest way possible and this very deliberate approach will help us to do so,'' LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said.
“This is an extraordinary undertaking -- making sure every student is tested for COVID before they return to school and every week thereafter. Los Angeles Unified is by far the largest school district in the nation to establish this standard for school safety. There are bound to be a few bumps in the road, but once it's in place it'll be worth it. It's all part of our commitment to create the safest possible school environment.''
All students who return to campus for in-person learning must receive a test the week prior to their school opening. For students starting school this week, Beutner said Monday morning that it's not too late to be tested.
Reopenings will be rolled out at each school over several days, starting with the youngest students. Kindergarten and first-grade students will return to school Tuesday; grades two and three on Wednesday; and fourth- and fifth-graders on Thursday.
Most of California's 6.1 million students in 1,037 public school districts have been learning from home since last March because of the pandemic. Long Beach, Glendale, Downey and Manhattan Beach unified school districts are among those ahead of LAUSD, already having welcomed back some students, with most schools operating on a limited schedule and prioritizing the youngest students.
LAUSD's reopened elementary schools will offer three hours of focused work in literacy, math, science and social studies, as well as recess and lunch, in addition to homework help and enrichment activities such as painting, dance and yoga.
Families also may choose to continue online learning rather than going back to the classroom, and many have been hesitant to return their children to schools.
As of last week, a survey of LAUSD families showed that 49% of elementary school parents want their kids to return to the classroom, with about three-quarters of responses in. Those who don't participate in the survey will remain in online instruction.
At the high school level, only 25% of families who participated in the survey said they'll return their students to campuses; and 35% of middle school families said they'll come back to the classroom.
“Our goal isn't just to reopen schools -- it's to make sure we can open them in the safest way possible with all students there. Many families who have chosen to remain in online instruction tell us their primary concern is that their child might go to school and, however remote the possibility, bring the virus home to a family member in a multi-generational household,'' Beutner said.
To help expedite the return to in-person instruction, the district will be operating 25 school-based vaccination centers to serve families of LAUSD students. It also has been operating a large-scale vaccination site for education workers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
The first school-based sites for families opened last week at Washington Preparatory and Lincoln High Schools in collaboration with St. John's Well Child and Family Center, and at Gage Middle School with the help of Northeast Community Clinics.
In the coming school year, Beutner noted, the district plans to spend more than $21,000 per student, which is going to require federal and local support.
“It's important to note it will take a collective effort including businesses, philanthropic and community organizations and all levels of government to help students recover and continue their progress,'' he said.
Part of what may help students recover is investing in the extension of the 2021-22 school year by two weeks to make up lost time. Beutner said the Board of Education this week will hear a recommendation to add one week in August and one week in January to the calendar, with each of the weeks split “between time for teachers and school staff to plan and participate in additional training and time for students to process the trauma and anxiety they've experienced the past year and work on learning fundamentals.'' The board meeting, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was rescheduled for Wednesday.
In the meantime, Los Angeles Unified COVID-19 testing centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. For details, call the Family Hotline at 213-443-1300.
For details about receiving a free vaccination at a school, the Family Vaccination Hotline is 213-328-3958.
LAUSD's food distribution programs will continue, with details available at www.lastudentsmostinneed.org. However, Grab & Go Food Centers will begin to close. Last Friday was the final day for 22 of the school-based food centers, and the remaining 41 sites will close this Friday.
Specific dates for the reopening of individual schools can be found on Los Angeles Unified's website or individual school websites.
“The reopening of schools is just one step on the long path to recovery which lies ahead and the return of some sense of normalcy in students' lives,'' Beutner said. “Friday night saw another small step as football teams from schools across Los Angeles Unified returned to competition on the field -- games that meant much more to all of the students than just the final score. Thank you for your continued patience and support. I look forward to seeing you at school.''
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