LA, San Diego Schools Say They Won’t Open If Budgets Are Cut

Staff at Belvedere Middle School in Los Angeles maintain the grounds while students work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The school, which opened its doors in 1924, serves grades 6 through 8 under the LA Unified School District, the second largest district in the country. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — School superintendents in Los Angeles and San Diego said Friday they won’t explore school reopening plans until California has widespread testing and contact tracing in place and state officials remove proposed cuts to education spending from the annual budget.

Schools across the Golden State shut their doors in March after Governor Gavin Newsom said the state’s more than 6 million students would take part in classes remotely due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Superintendent Austin Beutner of LA Unified School District and San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a joint statement Friday that while reopening schools is vital for students’ well-being, any reboot must be guided by public health indicators. 

“A robust system of Covid-19 testing and contact tracing will need to be in place before we can consider reopening schools,” Marten and Beutner said in the statement. “Local health authorities, not school districts, have to lead the way on testing, contact tracing and a clear set of protocols on how to respond to any occurrence of the virus.”

The two school districts employ about 90,000 educators and staff combined and serve more than 825,000 students, the statement said.

The LA and San Diego school districts are among the 1,000 districts in California that would also be impacted by the 19% reduction in funding for K-12 education proposed by Newsom this month.

Marten and Beutner said in the statement Newsom’s proposed budget falls short of the necessary funding to properly staff and sanitize schools to reopen.

“More teachers and staff will be needed to do this extra work in schools and to provide both in school and online learning programs,” the statement said. “And the governor’s proposed cuts for public education in the May revise to the 2020-21 state budget come at a time when schools are being asked to do more — not less — to deliver a quality education for students.”

The statement from the Southern California education officials comes days after the LA County Office of Education proposed a framework for reopening schools in the upcoming academic year that will involve more space between students than in traditional classroom setups and strict social distancing on campuses. 

The agency proposed limiting classroom size to about 16 students, staggering student attendance and operating a hybrid schedule that combines in-person instruction and at-home learning. Also, cloth face coverings would be required for students and staff, volunteers and visitors would be restricted from campuses and students would sit at least six feet apart in classrooms.

Playgrounds, play stations and other spaces for social interaction between students would essentially be cut under the framework.

But Marten and Beutner said any reopening plan must be more comprehensive, considering the economic needs of students’ families and ensuring the distribution of personal protective equipment to all school district community members. 

“Opening our schools will not be as easy as separating desks or placing pieces of tape on the floor,” the officials said in the statement. “We will need to ensure the safety and well-being of all in our school community — students, staff and families.”

LAUSD announced Thursday it has so far distributed 25 million free meals and grocery donations to students and their families at its 63 grab-and-go food distribution sites since March 18.

Nearly 80% of LAUSD students come from families living in poverty, according to the school district, which said it has not been reimbursed for meal donation costs.

A spokesperson for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the labor union representing LAUSD educators, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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