Schools in Los Angeles Unified will stay closed for the rest of the school year for in-class instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic, district Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday.
To help students make up for lost learning, the district plans to offer virtual summer school in “four-week blocks of study for students at all levels” that will focus on literacy, math and critical thinking, he said.
The district’s schools have been closed since March 16 and have since been transitioning to online learning.
“There is still no clear picture about testing, treatments or vaccines which we’ll need to know more about in order to create a plan to safely reopen schools,” Beutner said during a televised address. “The facts and circumstances will continue to change but we will not reopen school facilities until state and local health authorities tell us how it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
With the announcement, L.A. Unified joins several of the state’s other largest districts including Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified and San Francisco Unified in closing schools for the rest of the academic year. L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo last week recommended that all 80 districts in the county extend their closures for the remainder of the school year, and almost all have already done so.
The decision by the state’s largest districts to keep district schools closed for the rest of the school year is in line with guidance from the state’s top officials. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s schools chief Tony Thurmond have both urged that schools in the state remain closed through the rest of the academic year.
Beutner added that virtual summer school will be offered to all students as an opportunity to help make up for the “breaks in learning” that students have experienced.
“We are exploring new and creative ways to make the learning fun and interesting,” he said, adding that more details on the summer school program will come “in the weeks ahead.”
Graduation ceremonies will also be held virtually. Frances Suavillo, the student representative on the district’s school board and a senior at Carson Senior High School, is leading a group of students who will make recommendations to Beutner on how the district can “appropriately celebrate what, for the Class of 2020, has been a lifetime of hard work,” Beutner said.
Beutner also said the district also intends to make sure seniors can “reach the next step in their journey” by helping them secure financial aid and confirm college acceptances.
The decision to remain closed for the rest of the school year affects the K-12 schools operated by the district that enroll nearly 490,000 students. There are more than 100,000 other students enrolled at independent charter schools, but it’s up to those charter schools to determine how they will carry out distance learning the rest of the school year. The charter schools are expected to follow the district’s lead. Some charter schools in the district, such as Granada Hills Charter, already announced earlier this month that they planned to keep schools closed the rest of the academic year.
For students who are still a few credits short of graduating, Beutner said that the district is working with community college partners to ensure that “no student slips between the cracks and to help students with a bridge to the next chapter of their lives.”
“We won’t allow the closure of school facilities to close the doors of opportunity for young adults earning a high school diploma and starting college,” he said.
Monday’s announcement comes after LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing district teachers, reached an agreement last week over distance learning guidelines for the rest of the school year. The agreement gives teachers the flexibility to set their own schedules and to determine how they will deliver instruction to students. Teachers are encouraged but not required to use live video to teach. Under the agreement, students also can not receive a grade that is worse than their grade as of March 13.
The nation’s second-largest school district has made progress getting students the equipment and internet access they need to engage in distance learning but it still has significant work remaining to connect all students. Beutner announced that the district has enlisted Amazon to help ease its transition to online learning. Amazon is helping the district connect 100 percent of its students to online learning by delivering devices to students as well as headphones.
“The transition from a physical classroom to a virtual one is an enormous undertaking. There is no substitute for learning in a school setting but it would be a mistake to try to simply replicate what happens in a classroom,” he said.
Beutner said last week that he expects the district will need until May to get all of its elementary students connected to online learning. As of last week, more than 40 percent of elementary students had not participated in any online learning, meaning they had not logged in at all to any of the district’s online learning platforms, such as Schoology, Edgenuity, Zoom or Google Classroom.
Part of Amazon’s job will also be to fix Schoology, the platform that allows teachers to share assignments and lesson plans with students. Teachers have reported that the system has often been crashing. Beutner has acknowledged the issue, saying last week that Schoology wasn’t built to support so many users at the same time.