Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Los Angeles County Office of Education Supt. Debra Duardo, left, is given a tour Cerritos Elementary School in Glendale by Principal Perla Chavez-Fritz, right, on Tuesday, May 26 considering that with a persisting coronavirus threat, K-12 campuses will try to reopen in the fall. New L.A. County guidelines offer a possible roadmap but it could get complicated and costly to confront the logistics of reopening at an actual school in the wake of Covid-19.

Many schools in districts in Los Angeles County could have a totally different look this year: masked students sitting six feet apart, walking single file along hallways and up and down stairs. They may eat lunch at their desks or with drastically fewer students in the cafeteria, and some could attend classes outdoors. 

Those are among the recommendations of a county-wide task force of district leaders for reopening schools for more than 2 million students this fall. The recommendations are included in a framework published Wednesday by the L.A. County Office of Education and are meant to serve as a guide to 80 school districts within the county, by far the most populous in the state, as they consider how and whether to reopen for the 2020-21 academic year. 

“It’s going to be hard to ensure the safe physical reopening of campuses. But one thing we know we need to do is we need to be prepared. And we have to have plans in place so that we are ready when the time comes for us to reopen,” L.A. County Supt. of Schools Debra Duardo said in a conference call Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether the L.A. County guidelines will be followed uniformly across the county. A group of 11 superintendents warned in a letter last week to Duardo and other officials that it would be “impractical” to keep students six feet apart and “unrealistic” to expect students, especially those with disabilities or very young children, to wear face coverings for an entire school day.

“While many of these proposed guidelines may be feasible in a hospital setting or a commercial business setting, we do not believe they are feasible or practical in a school setting. These unattainable and unrealistic measures will drastically inhibit school districts’ ability to reopen,” the superintendents wrote. 

The framework, which if implemented would represent a massive overhaul of the typical school day, offers the most detailed guidance yet to California school districts on how they may reopen schools. It was drawn up by a task force of 25 superintendents and other representatives from districts across the county.

It also comes ahead of statewide guidelines for resuming in-person classes, which are expected to be released in June. Schools have been closed across the state for in-person instruction since mid-March in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Among the districts in L.A. county are Los Angeles Unified, the largest district in the state with about 600,000 students, and Long Beach Unified, the state’s fourth largest district. 

Administrators at L.A. Unified have said it will be impossible to reopen schools safely this fall if budgets are reduced as proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, since implementing the necessary changes will bring significant costs. Newsom proposed a reduction to school budgets of about 8% from last year. 

During a conference call Wednesday morning, county officials and members of the task force acknowledged that following the guidelines and reopening schools will be difficult.

We do have a deep interest in having students return to school. We do recognize it will be significantly challenging and we anxiously await real clear directions from the Department of Public Health as well as the funding to be able to do so,” said Julie Mitchell, a member of the task force and superintendent of Rowland Unified, which is east of Los Angeles.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, during a press briefing Wednesday on the state’s progress in developing guidelines to reopen schools, said California students and school staff should expect to wear face coverings, maintain physical distancing and have their temperature taken daily when schools reopen in the fall.

“We expect there will be a balance of instruction between distance learning and in-class instruction and we actually think that balance will be helpful to many in our state,” Thurmond said. “The more distance learning we are doing, that means we can have fewer students on campus and that means we can have smaller class sizes, which is going to be important.”

Thurmond said schools would have to use every part of the campus to ensure students are six feet apart when sitting in desks, eating lunch or riding school buses. The L.A. document said additional buses may be needed to keep students six feet apart on the bus, while there may also need to be changes to how parents and students wait for buses. Students may also need to be screened or get a “health check” before boarding the bus.

Districts wouldn’t be bound by the state’s guidance and can make independent decisions on reopening schools in concert with their local public health department. Similarly, L.A. County officials emphasized Wednesday that the guidelines for reopening schools are just that: guidelines, not directives. School districts will be able to maintain local control as they determine how to reopen, as long as they follow public health orders. 

“We expect plans will look different in different areas of the county,” Duardo said. 

Districts will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to resume face-to-face classes at all. They can instead decide to continue with distance learning or use a mix of face-to-face and virtual instruction.

The guidance for reopening schools was released as the coronavirus continues to spread in California and especially in L.A. County. The county accounts for more than half of the state’s deaths due to the virus to date as the number of infections continues to grow. Over the past two weeks, 51% of all coronavirus cases in the state have been in the county, according to the Los Angeles Times, even though the county accounts for only a quarter of California’s population. 

What’s unclear is how schools should respond if they learn that a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The guidance issued by the county calls for schools to create their own response plans. If a student or staff member shows symptoms consistent with the virus, they would have to be sent home to isolate for at least 10 days after the symptoms first appear and at least three days after recovering, according to the guidance.

L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has said schools will need a “robust system of testing and contact tracing” in place before they can consider reopening. But the framework released Wednesday concludes that “at this time, it is not feasible” for testing to be provided at schools.

It’s also not clear whether schools would be encouraged to create staggered schedules, which could involve some students arriving in the morning and others in the afternoon. 

At the school level, keeping students apart means setting up classrooms where students sit six feet apart from one another and, when possible, holding classes outside. For classes that must be held inside, there should only be 16 students in a “typical 960 square foot classroom.” That could be extremely difficult in districts like L.A. Unified, where many classes have more than 30 students. 

Schools are also encouraged to put markings on the floor to enforce new “foot traffic patterns” with one-way movement in hallways and inside staircases. Even going to the bathroom, eating lunch and having recess could look very different. The guidance calls for scheduled restroom use and opening cafeterias and recess to students in staggered shifts. For example, lunches and recesses may be limited to one class at a time. 

Specialty classes like gym and band could also be affected under the guidelines. The framework calls for closing gyms and using them to store furniture so classrooms have more space. Band classrooms could be reassigned to “another larger class that may need to stay together,” according to the framework.

Schools will be expected to have sufficient personal protective equipment on hand for staff and students.

For nurses on school campuses, that means surgical masks, non-latex gloves and, in some cases, face shields or other protective eyewear. Other staff and all students should wear face coverings throughout the day.

It may also be necessary to install counter shields in some places where physical distancing is more difficult, such as in the front offices of schools. 

Members of the L.A. County task force that drew up the guidance said Wednesday that they hope to eventually offer more flexibility to districts. But that will depend on guidance from state and county health officials, said Rosemead School District Superintendent Alejandro Ruvalcaba, a member of the task force.

“Depending on what phase of our roadmap to recovery we are on, our instructional model will adapt to that,” he said.

EdSource Reporter Diana Lambert contributed to this report.

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  1. Yvonne Davies 1 month ago1 month ago

    My 2 sons are at Venice High, an open campus school with approx 3,000 students, many of whom are bused in from various cities in LA. It's pandemonium at the start and end of the school day. There is no way the school would be able to maintain social distancing or keep track of kids coming on campus and sneaking off campus without a major increase in staff and buses and some way of making … Read More

    My 2 sons are at Venice High, an open campus school with approx 3,000 students, many of whom are bused in from various cities in LA. It’s pandemonium at the start and end of the school day. There is no way the school would be able to maintain social distancing or keep track of kids coming on campus and sneaking off campus without a major increase in staff and buses and some way of making it a closed campus with only one way in and one way out.

    My sons will not be going back to school in August unless LAUSD can guarantee their safety and ours. We are older parents 62 and 65 with health issues.

  2. tavis 1 month ago1 month ago

    Most of the ideas have merit. I agree that kids shouldn't have to go to school the way kids did 100 years ago. Make each class 30 kids, but divide them into groups A, B, and C. One group stays home all week taking online classes curated by the school district to be more dynamic than your average teacher is. Another group goes to school 9-12 for intense interaction with their teacher in the now … Read More

    Most of the ideas have merit. I agree that kids shouldn’t have to go to school the way kids did 100 years ago. Make each class 30 kids, but divide them into groups A, B, and C. One group stays home all week taking online classes curated by the school district to be more dynamic than your average teacher is. Another group goes to school 9-12 for intense interaction with their teacher in the now much smaller classroom allowing the teacher to spend less time disciplining and more time teaching. The third group goes to school for PE or electives 11-12:30. At 12:30, the two on-campus groups switch and the morning kids do PE from 12-2 while the morning PE kids do classwork 12:30-3:30.

    Of course, progressives will see the benefits of the smaller class sizes while parents who rely on the school to be their primary babysitter will oppose.

  3. M 1 month ago1 month ago

    You all have to remember that teachers are now going to be front-line workers and safety is a must. If little ones can’t social distance then we are back to distance learning. This is very difficult for everyone. However, it it is not forever. Eventually things will get back to normal, it is going to take time. If kids come back to school, it will look different. I don’t think you want COVID-19 infecting your … Read More

    You all have to remember that teachers are now going to be front-line workers and safety is a must. If little ones can’t social distance then we are back to distance learning. This is very difficult for everyone. However, it it is not forever. Eventually things will get back to normal, it is going to take time. If kids come back to school, it will look different. I don’t think you want COVID-19 infecting your children or do you? Be supportive, no one wants to get sick or for your children to get sick.

  4. Pamela 1 month ago1 month ago

    It's time to stop reacting and start thinking about admitting that in-person public school cannot be looked at or conducted as it has been from the 1800's until two months ago. Too much is changing. At the very least we could start with the idea that not every public school student still needs to attend in-person classes five days a week. Many are at an age when they can thrive academically through virtual learning … Read More

    It’s time to stop reacting and start thinking about admitting that in-person public school cannot be looked at or conducted as it has been from the 1800’s until two months ago. Too much is changing. At the very least we could start with the idea that not every public school student still needs to attend in-person classes five days a week. Many are at an age when they can thrive academically through virtual learning from home. They’ve been showing that in these last weeks of the semester. Plus they haven’t had a babysitter in years. Repositioning a lot of these students is something that can start to be done right now, as part of a beginning. I see a good possibility of strong benefits from it.

  5. LAUSD Parent 1 month ago1 month ago

    Sounds worse than prison: isolating children, not to mention the trauma causing developing young minds. Students sent home from activities they enjoyed – dance, music, friends and in-person teachers at school to come back to this? - No socializing - One-way hallways - Assigning 1 ball per pupil to play alone only - Lunch to be served in classrooms at their desk Children need better practices for there to be social interaction and in a safely matter. Parents need to … Read More

    Sounds worse than prison: isolating children, not to mention the trauma causing developing young minds. Students sent home from activities they enjoyed – dance, music, friends and in-person teachers at school to come back to this?
    – No socializing
    – One-way hallways
    – Assigning 1 ball per pupil to play alone only
    – Lunch to be served in classrooms at their desk

    Children need better practices for there to be social interaction and in a safely matter. Parents need to gather before then to protest. My understanding that it’s suggested but it’s up to schools to implement this.

    Children shouldn’t have to endure such conditioning. As it is, children are going through a lot because of COVID restrictions and now this?! We need to stand up for community children.

  6. Delvin 1 month ago1 month ago

    We need to put more thought into all of this agenda. Some of these ideas are absolutely ridiculous. We need to be more solution based. Some of the actions plans are just crazy type of thinking. We need to get more of parents’ input and involvement in this process. Not just pull stuff out of the sky. Because it sounds good, or seems workable based on surface level thinking.

  7. Pat Skaggs 1 month ago1 month ago

    This will never work!!! The younger children K-3 grades will never be able to keep a mask on all day, too hot and uncomfortable. The little ones will pick at the mask and their faces. Not to mention the older students who will not put up with wearing a mask. Six feet apart from each other, good luck on that one; it may start that way, but by the middle of the day, they will … Read More

    This will never work!!! The younger children K-3 grades will never be able to keep a mask on all day, too hot and uncomfortable. The little ones will pick at the mask and their faces.

    Not to mention the older students who will not put up with wearing a mask. Six feet apart from each other, good luck on that one; it may start that way, but by the middle of the day, they will be socializing with each other. We are humans who require socialization, even more so now that you are taking a way gym or lunch in the lunch room with their friends. Not to mention other items being taken away from them.

  8. Carol Turcotte 1 month ago1 month ago

    What kind of math are they using to determine maximum class size? If a classroom is 960 square feet and each student needs 36 square feet, that would be 26 or 27 students. If you optimize a grid structure for desks there could be even more room. Also, other countries specify the optimum "social distance" as 1 to 1.5 meters. What is magic about 6 feet? I think we need to be cautious and … Read More

    What kind of math are they using to determine maximum class size? If a classroom is 960 square feet and each student needs 36 square feet, that would be 26 or 27 students. If you optimize a grid structure for desks there could be even more room. Also, other countries specify the optimum “social distance” as 1 to 1.5 meters.

    What is magic about 6 feet? I think we need to be cautious and thoughtful when planning for next year, not reactionary and negative.

  9. Lora 1 month ago1 month ago

    What about better hand washing procedures or mobile sinks?

  10. el 1 month ago1 month ago

    The fall is going to be tough. Biggest thing not mentioned here is that schools in session are paid by actual daily attendance, not enrollment. But, I think we all agree that any kid who appears sick should not come to school. I think it would be wise for the Legislature to change the funding rules for 2020-2021 to pay based on enrollment. Let's not have any kids coming to school sick and potentially contagious - … Read More

    The fall is going to be tough.

    Biggest thing not mentioned here is that schools in session are paid by actual daily attendance, not enrollment. But, I think we all agree that any kid who appears sick should not come to school. I think it would be wise for the Legislature to change the funding rules for 2020-2021 to pay based on enrollment. Let’s not have any kids coming to school sick and potentially contagious – with any virus! – just because the school needs money.

    Next: I think all schools need to expect more frequent absences than usual, in terms of how the curriculum is delivered. We should be expecting more kids out sick, some kids potentially out due to direct quarantine, and maybe some high risk kids needing some specific different plans. Some of what we’ve learned and built in delivering distance learning will be applicable in terms of making assignments available online, but we can’t expect teachers to be supporting 30-40 kids per class period with some of them in the room and a significant percentage of them out. It totally destroys your class cadence if you have to catch kids up, and there’s not enough time in the day for a teacher to handle a full load of classes and then follow up with 10-20 of them (or more) at home. Ideally we’d be able to give every teacher an extra prep period for that work or have dedicated teachers who were checking in on students who cannot be in class. Obviously this is not possible with 8% funding cuts. So what do we do?

    The talk about buses sounds nice but in our rural communities, not only are we limited in terms of physical buses, but we have trouble keeping enough bus drivers on staff to run our full buses as is. Bus drivers are expensive and time consuming to train, and since the hours are broken into two shifts yet not full time, the position usually needs to be paired with some other work to create a reasonable paycheck and schedule. I wish we could afford to raise the wages on it more, because a terrific bus driver is worth their weight in gold.