LA Unified Campuses Will Remain Closed for Start of School Year

Residents of East Los Angeles stand in line and wait in their cars to collect food donations outside James A. Garfield High School as part of the school district’s effort to support families struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Students and teachers in Los Angeles will not return to the classroom next month as the novel coronavirus infections continue to spike across the region.

The news from the nation’s second largest public school district comes just days after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines around Covid-19 were “flexible” and children should be able to safely return back to school in the fall.

On Monday, LA Unified School District Administrator Austin Beutner said the health and safety of all in the community is not something that the district could compromise.

“It’s July 13, and August 18 is about five weeks away. In ordinary circumstances, we would have already shared all of the details about the upcoming school year — from the time of the school bus pickup to the schedule of volleyball and football practices. These aren’t ordinary circumstances. As we’ve seen over just the past five weeks, things can change quite quickly,” Beutner said in a statement Monday.

“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 in a school setting,” said Beutner. “While Dorothy in ‘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. The federal government could help by providing the funding schools need to make it safe and appropriate for students and staff to return. The cost of testing all at schools, maybe $15 billion, will help make it safer for all 50 million students and their teachers in public schools across the country.”

LA County has seen a steady increase in its daily infection returns in the last few weeks averaging between 2,500 and 3,000 new infections.

Like the rest of the nation, LA County is seeing infection rates not seen since May.

LAUSD and the San Diego Unified School district have been closed since early March when the infection potential of the virus was relatively unknown.

During the four-month lockdown the virus has exploded across Southern California with over 134,000 confirmed infections and over 3,800 deaths according to LA County public health officials. San Diego has seen about 20,000 infections and over 400 deaths. 

Last week, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county was working with school officials to prepare guidelines for a possible reopening. She cautioned school officials to prepare a plan B in case the virus was not contained when students were set to go back into the classroom after ending their last semester with virtual learning.

But the explosion in new infections and clear indication of community spread became too big of a problem to ignore. 

On Monday, Ferrer announced guidelines that schools would need to follow if they would allow students to return back to the classroom, but with the caveat that students likely would be instructed from home.

“Just because we’re offering these protocols doesn’t mean we’re authorizing schools to reopen for classroom instruction,” said Ferrer during a briefing. “It’s best to look at them as a roadmap.”

Students will always need to wear masks when they’re back in school, excluding younger children during nap time or when students are eating. Students will need to physically distance from one another and wash their hands regularly while in class.

After-school programs will be limited and sports that do not allow for physical distancing will be canceled.

President Donald Trump tweeted last week that he would withhold federal funding from schools that did not reopen in the fall, claiming that other countries have reopened their schools.

In a statement, LAUSD said, “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. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.

“Our leaders owe it to all of those impacted by the Covid-19 closures to increase the pace of their work. No one should use the delay in the reopening of classrooms as a reason to relax. The coronavirus has not taken a summer vacation, as many had hoped. Indeed, the virus has accelerated its attacks on our community.”

The United Teachers Los Angeles union has called on the district to focus on virtual learning for the beginning of the school year. The union representing thousands of teachers within LAUSD said the closures from earlier in the year were a necessary step.

“It was the right thing to close school campuses then, and it’s the right thing to keep them closed now,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “In the face of the alarming spike in Covid cases, the lack of necessary funding from the government to open schools safely, and the outsized threat of death faced by working class communities of color, there really is no other choice that doesn’t put thousands of lives at risk.”

Virtual classes will begin Aug. 18 in LA County and Aug. 31 in San Diego. 

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