School Board Discusses Students’ Return to LCHS

The La Cañada Unified School District is one of the few districts in Los Angeles County to have brought young learners back for limited in-person learning last November and remained open during an alarming pandemic surge. It has since welcomed the remainder of its elementary school students and is in the process of having students in grades 7-12.
However, that good news, which was presented during an LCUSD governing board meeting on Tuesday, quickly soured when a number of La Cañada Flintridge parents voiced their frustrations over the district’s approach to reopening and asked the governing board to consider a full reopening with five days of in-person instruction.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette assured community members that the district is committed to fully reopening with a regular bell schedule for the 2021-22 school year and will continue to find a way to expand in-person instruction for the final few months of the current semester. However, she added that such a task cannot be accomplished if parents continue to harass her and staff with messages.
“I’d just like to point out that when we have been given any single challenge, we have met it,” Sinnette said after hearing from the public. “But if we’re being charged with this task, we will look at it, we will address it, we will do everything in our power to meet it, but there are many moving pieces and many variables. And we cannot do our work if we’re continuously harassed by our community via email and phone calls.
“So if you want this work to be done, and I’m completely respectful of every single community member and I have my undying respect for this governing board, but if you want us to do our work, we have heard you and we will do it. But we need to do so in an environment where we are not continuously and daily harassed.”
Sinnette accepted the board’s direction to move forward with a phased approach in expanding reopening that includes feedback from site administration and the reopening committee.
The district faces several challenges in going to a hybrid schedule that would have students on campus five days a week. LCUSD would have to renegotiate with labor unions and find difficulty in loading classrooms while adhering to health guidelines.
Dan Jeffries, governing board vice president, reminded stakeholders that the district has to follow the rules set by L.A. County.
“The [Centers for Disease Control], the state government, the county government, you can complain to all those governments if you want, but as a school board, our job is we have to follow what rules are laid out before us,” said Jeffries, who added that it makes sense for the district to at least explore the possibility of having students on campus five days a week.
Newly elected board member Caroline Anderson supported the district’s efforts and believes that a phased approach is best, especially for La Cañada High School.
“We have brought 60 or 70 kids back a day when we were doing elementary school,” Anderson said. “We are talking about bringing back 1,100 kids on April 13. How’s that going to go? We haven’t had that many kids back yet at one time. We want to make sure that we bring them on safely and hopefully in a few weeks, we can talk about getting the rest back and going on a full schedule. But it is not smart to all of a sudden just decide to bring 2,400 kids back to campus when we haven’t even tested if we can bring 200 kids at one time.”
According to Principal Jim Cartnal, there will be about 500 students on campus at a time from Monday through Thursday.
The return rate of LCHS students isn’t as high as one would expect. Seventh-graders have the highest rate with 72% returning to campus, according to LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold. Only 65% of 8th-graders, 52% of 9th-graders, 45% of 10th-graders, 43% of 11th-graders and 60% of 12th-graders opted to return to campus for
in-person instruction.
Board member Josh Epstein said he was “struck” by the figures and that remote learners need just as much attention from district staff.
Jeffries agreed with his fellow board member, saying “those students need to have a safe environment. Those need to have a good learning experience.” He also lamented that the discourse over reopening cast a shadow about the announcement of on-campus activities for students and the reopening of the high school, a feat that many districts have yet to accomplish.
“Really, tonight should be a night of celebration of how much progress we’ve made, how we’ve had the TK-2 kids in school since November, how every opportunity we’ve had to open schools, we’ve done so, and we have a reasonable plan for opening after spring break,” Jeffries said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re ending on this note where there are a lot of angry parents, but I think the real feeling of the community is one of pride in what our district has been able to do and what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
President Kaitzer Puglia echoed Jeffries and added that “the push and focus has to remain what’s best for our students.
“In order to meet the needs of our students, we also have to have time to be able to process this step by step and move toward getting our students back on campus. I don’t think that’s ever been in question in this district. We will continue to move forward,” she added.