Schools in Los Angeles Unified won’t resume in-person instruction until there is a “robust system of testing and contact tracing” in place, Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday.
During his weekly televised speech, Beutner reiterated what he has said in recent weeks: that it’s too soon to say when schools will reopen, something that will depend on the advice of health officials. But Beutner also said Monday that the district continues to make progress in connecting elementary students to online learning — though thousands remain disconnected.
When students do eventually return to schools, it will likely be a “gradual process with a schedule and school day that may be different,” Beutner said.
“But before that can happen,” Beutner said, “health authorities have to solve some very real issues for the safe return of our school community.”
“A robust system of testing and contact tracing will need to be in place before any serious talk begins about reopening schools,” he added. “We will remain in close coordination with state and local authorities as they provide us with further guidance.”
Beutner has said it’s not yet clear when schools will reopen, adding that he wants to avoid “a hasty return to schools.” He noted that the district has more than 75,000 employees serving hundreds of thousands of students “who live with another couple of million people.”
“Will testing be available for all of these individuals, and who will pay for it? This is the sort of challenge which lies ahead,” Beutner said.
Beutner’s comments were in line with what he has previously said about the process for reopening schools. He said earlier this month that the district would “not reopen school facilities until state and local health authorities tell us how it is safe and appropriate to do so” and that the district would need to first have more information about testing, treatment and progress on a vaccine.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this month that there will be major changes when schools reopen in California. Students may have to practice physical distancing and schools could implement schedule changes, with some students attending in the morning and others coming in the afternoon.
In Los Angeles, schools have been closed for in-person classes since March 16. Virtual instruction will continue for the rest of the school year and through the summer.
The district has made improvements in connecting elementary students to online learning, from 18% when schools first closed to 71% as of Monday, by distributing mobile hotspots and other devices to those students. But that means about three out of 10 of those students remain disconnected from online learning. Those students can still take part in some distance learning by watching educational programming being televised on local PBS stations through a partnership between the district and PBS SoCal.
LA Unified has a partnership with Verizon to provide WiFi hotspots to students in the district but has prioritized distributing the devices to high school students. About 98% of high schoolers have participated in at least some online learning, according to district data released Monday. That’s equal to the same amount of high schoolers who had participated as of last week. Beutner also said last week that about one-third of those students are not participating in online learning on a regular basis.
Beutner added Monday that 85% of teachers in the district have completed the 10 hours of distance learning training that the district is requiring. Additionally, more than half of teachers have signed up for another 30 hours of training.
Beutner renewed his call for financial assistance from federal, state and local governments. The superintendent said last week that LA Unified is facing $200 million in unbudgeted costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
About $78 million of those costs come from distributing meals, which are available to anyone who shows up to one of the district’s dozens of grab-and-go centers.
Within the past week, the district has asked for funding from the City of Los Angeles’ disaster relief fund and from LA County’s food stamps program. LA Unified has also asked for emergency funding from the state and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Agriculture at the federal level.
“I mentioned last week we are incurring costs in this effort we did not budget for,” Beutner said Monday. “We’re working at all levels of government to make sure a mass, community relief effort like this is supported by the funding that exists to pay for it.”
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.