LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and other officials discuss the reopening of elementary schools in the county
AMONG the most contentious issues of the coronavirus pandemic, the push to re-open in-person K-12 classes and other educational institutions may have finally reached an agreement among school district officials, teachers and parents.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LA Unified) — the second-largest school district in the nation, which serves more than 600,000 students — announced this week that it reached an agreement with the teachers’ union United Teachers of LA (UTLA) to reopen in-person instruction throughout its K-12 schools in about six weeks.
Specifically, preschool classes, elementary schools and education services for students with disabilities are expected to resume by mid-April while middle and high schools are expected to reopen by the end of April.
Contingent to these re-openings, which will involve hybrid models that combine in-person and virtual learning — includes vaccinations for teachers and staff, the use of face masks, physical distancing and hand-washing requirements, disinfecting facilities and improving ventilation and maintaining a “robust contact tracing” and quarantine procedures if anyone tests positive, LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a press briefing on Thursday, March 11.
For almost one year, LA Unified and other county school districts have been operating totally remotely as teachers and school administrators resisted reopening classrooms while the county remained a hotbed for COVID-19 infection.
In February, grades TK-6 were cleared to reopen. Upon the county moving from the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s reopening plan to the red tier this weekend, secondary schools will be allowed to return to classrooms.
But the toll of one year of remote learning has led to critical lows in student engagement, Barger noted.
“During this time we have witnessed a significant academic, social and emotional decline in our students,” Barger said, adding that now, she feels that schools are more prepared to return instruction to the classroom.
“I’ve seen remarkable efforts from our school districts throughout the county that have developed and implemented robust calls to keep students, teachers and staff safe and healthy,” Barger said.
Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo joined Barger at Thursday’s briefing (which was hosted by Ethnic Media Services), and she noted the importance of establishing a robust plan that will prevent a possible re-closing of schools in the event of another surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We should all be concerned about the trauma inflicted on our future workforce [and] we have to make sure we are accelerating learning when students come back,” Duardo said.
Though vaccine requirements aren’t required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to reopen schools, UTLA had been demanding that teachers be vaccinated before in-person teaching resumes.
As previously reported in the Asian Journal, teachers are currently eligible for the vaccine as of March 1, and Gov. Gavin Newsom recently allocated 10% of new doses to be distributed to educators only. (Newsom also reached an agreement with state officials to send more state funds to help schools with reopening, including $6 billion in personal protective equipment.)
The vaccine is also now available to county residents who are public transit workers, janitors and custodians, social workers and foster parents who provide many LA County students with emergency housing.
According to Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the LA County Department of Health, the case rate is now less than 700 positive COVID-19 cases per day, the lowest since April.
But just because the county is experiencing a downtrend in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and vaccinations are ramping up — doesn’t mean the public should let its guard down in terms of public safety protocol, Gonzalez said.
“We may start to see, especially with the upcoming holidays and spring break, individuals who may choose to travel and gather, but whether or not they are vaccinated, they will be taking on additional risks of being infected and infecting others,” Gonzalez said.
The CDC announced recently that people who have been fully vaccinated may begin to gather with others (who are also vaccinated) at least two weeks after their final vaccination. But Gonzalez said that people should still follow public safety protocols when outside the home in order to truly mitigate viral spread.
“So we are concerned about that. And even though the CDC has said that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without having to wear a mask or maintain social distancing, when individuals are in public we still emphasize that you should still maintain social distancing and continue to wear masking to continue to help us in LA County control the spread of the virus,” Gonzalez said.