LOS ANGELES, Calif. Elementary schools in Los Angeles County are allowed to reopen after nearly a year of pandemic closures, thanks to declining coronavirus cases. However, the Los Angeles Unified School District has not set a timetable for the reopening of classrooms. The teachers’ union and district officials are calling for all staff to be vaccinated before LAUSD schools reopen.
According to state guidelines, in-person teaching has been banned for most of the county’s 1.5 million students since March, with a few exceptions. With the green light to reopen as of this week, each of the county’s school districts will individually decide how to proceed.
Those who welcome returning students will need to adhere to a series of safety protocols such as limited class sizes and the provision of protective equipment while continuing to offer a distance learning option to accommodate families who are reluctant to send. their children attend face-to-face classes.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer said 12 school districts in the county had already had their safety plans approved and two more districts had plans under review. A total of 173 private or chartered schools have also had plans approved, with another seven private / chartered awaiting approval of their plans.
A full list of approved districts and schools was not immediately released, but Ferrer said it would eventually be posted on the health department’s website. She noted that LAUSD is one of 12 districts that have had security plans approved.
However, the county’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has yet to strike a deal with the teachers’ union, which has called for teachers to be vaccinated before returning to teaching in person. The union also insisted that no in-person instruction should be resumed until the average rate of new cases drops to seven per 100,000 – a level that would allow the county to step out of the most “purple” level. restrictive of the roadmap for the economic reopening of the state. .
The union issued a statement on Tuesday saying that reopening schools while the county is still in the ‘purple’ level will “almost certainly lead to increased infections and school closures, creating even more instability and frustration.” .
“Resuming in-person teaching when cases are so high and without proper health and safety protocols will result in a yo-yo effect of closures, upsetting the very educational stability that our students and communities deserve,” said the President of UTLA, Cecily Myart-Cruz.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner supported UTLA in its call for teacher immunizations.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines on reopening schools last week, saying that vaccinating teachers should not be a prerequisite for resuming in-person learning. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who proposed a $ 6.6 billion plan to reopen campuses and fund campus safety protocols, also said schools can reopen before teachers and staff are vaccinated.
Ferrer said Tuesday she respects the need for districts to make reopening decisions in partnership with parents and worker groups.
“I’ve always said that the decision to open a school is made by this school community,” Ferrer said. “There is no way to open schools without teachers and staff feeling comfortable in buildings, and parents feeling comfortable sending their children. way forward when there is a school community that thinks it’s time for them to be able to reopen. “
She said she was convinced that if schools adhere to required safety protocols, the risk of infection is low. She noted that more than 2,200 schools had some form of in-person offerings – such as childcare, education for students with high needs and waivers for younger students – since September, and infections are relatively rare, with 86 outbreaks of three or more cases reported during this five-month period.
County school districts are negotiating reopening plans with teachers. Safety plans must be submitted to the county for certification.
On Monday, the Santa Monica-Unified School District announced a tentative agreement with the Santa Monica-Malibu Teachers Association. According to the agreement, which has not yet been ratified, vaccines must be available to teachers and campus staff for 15 days before students return. As already approved by the school board in December, elementary school students in Santa Monica and Malibu will return to campuses once Los Angeles County registers COVID-19 infection levels of 25 per 100,000 or less for five. consecutive days, and high school students will revert to a threshold of seven per 100,000.
Only three school districts in the county are already partially open to blended learning with county-certified safety plans.
In Calabasas and Agoura Hills, the Unified School District of Las Virgenes has opened its elementary schools for hybrid education since the fall.
Elementary schools in Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes are already open for blended learning, according to the county education office.
The state allows elementary schools to reopen as soon as counties reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000, a milestone Los Angeles health officials said on Monday they expected to reach on Tuesday. All schools that wish to reopen must submit plans to the County Health Department and the California Department of Public Health, certifying that they have implemented a full range of safety measures to allow for a safe reopening.
County supervisor Janice Hahn sent a celebratory tweet about the announcement.
“LA County has officially reached the threshold to reopen state elementary schools,” she wrote on Monday. “As of tomorrow (Tuesday), schools can reopen for K-6 grades if they have a waiver or have submitted their COVID security plans in advance. …
“This is what we have been working towards,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who wore your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in LA County are dropping. Now we can continue the work to get our children and teachers back safely to the classrooms where they belong.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer was due to release additional information about the Los Angeles County school’s threshold to reopen during a press briefing at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
His department issued the following statement on Monday: “This is an encouraging step and we look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff returning to schools.”
For Unified Schools in Los Angeles, the district announced plans to open an on-campus vaccination site, a move seen as a major step to help get teachers vaccinated quickly. The LAUSD school’s first COVID-19 vaccination center would open at the Roybal Learning Center at 1200 Colton St. near downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. Moderna vaccines will be administered by LAUSD school nurses and other licensed healthcare professionals.
Yet it is unclear whether the teachers’ union and district officials are ready to resume teaching in person. Some of the county’s highest infection rates continued to be seen in neighborhoods served by LAUSD schools.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said earlier Monday, regarding when schools are reopening, that this district has done its part in making sure every campus is safe, including:
- Renovation of 80 million square feet of school buildings to ensure air is properly filtered.
- Clean and disinfect every room in every school.
- Provide masks and personal protective equipment.
- Reconfigure classrooms and facilities to maintain social distancing.
- Creation of a COVID-19 screening and contact tracing program in schools.
Beutner and other officials and union leaders from several of the state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, have previously rejected the governor’s plan to reopen schools, saying it fails to fund the districts urban schools. The governor opposed United Teachers Los Angeles’ call for campuses to remain closed until teachers and staff can be vaccinated.
California health officials also recently released an interactive map that allows Angelenos and others across the state to track the status of campus reopens. The Safe Schools Reopening Map provides data on the status of reopening and safety planning for school districts, charter schools, and private schools in Los Angeles and California. Officials said they hope this will help communities and school staff assess their own plans to reopen.
Schools will update their information on the map every two weeks, and the California Department of Public Health will add data on reported outbreaks in each school district and information on testing for COVID-19.
“As COVID-19 conditions continue to improve and vaccinations increase statewide, this map will provide local communities with accessible and up-to-date information on how districts in their communities and beyond. beyond adapt to the pandemic, including security planning and implementation, ”Governor Gavin Newsom said. “This card is one of the many resources we have made available to help school staff and families make informed decisions as we reopen our schools safely.”
The map was created through a partnership involving the state, the county office of education, and the California Collaborative in Education Excellence. It can be viewed here.
The City News Service and Patron Saint Paige Austin contributed to this report.
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