District Applies for Waivers to Open Up Elementary Schools

Photo courtesy GUSD
After first getting a waiver to have some in-person instruction at Horace Mann Elementary School, the Glendale Unified School District plans to seek waivers for its remaining elementary schools.

The Glendale Unified School District will begin applying for waivers for the remainder of its elementary schools to resume limited
in-person instruction, weeks after the district piloted a reopening at s.
Meanwhile, district officials plan to keep a close eye on the ever-changing situation with regard to the pandemic and the plethora of restrictions it brings from county, state and federal leaders. For now, distance learning continues to be the primary teaching mechanism, and the board of education expects its next decision to be by March 12, the end of the third quarter and on the cusp of spring break.
“The end of the third quarter and the day before spring break seemed to be a good decision at the time,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said, “but I do want to repeat that if we maintain a purple tier as a school district and county, it will be difficult to make decisions any differently than what we’ve made so far.”

Los Angeles County has been granting waivers for individual elementary schools to resume limited in-person instruction for students up through 2nd grade, based on an evaluation of the school’s safety and hygiene protocols in addition to socioeconomic considerations. The waivers are necessary because L.A. County remains in the purple tier — indicating uncontrolled spread — in the coronavirus rankings.
“I’m hearing that it may take a while, so let’s start the process,” board President Armina Gharpetian said Tuesday, asking to begin applying for the waivers. “The second we go into the red tier, we don’t need a waiver, but we don’t know how long we’ll be in the purple tier. Let’s start the process and if this purple tier extends longer, at least we’ll know that some of the families will be able to bring their kids back.”
To enter the red tier, a county must demonstrate an adjusted daily new COVID-19 case rate of four-to-seven new cases per 100,000 residents, a seven-day average positivity rate of 5-8% and a healthy equity quartile positivity rate (the positivity rate in the lowest 25% of Healthy Places Index census tracts in the county) of 5.3-8%. Respectively, L.A. County is at a 38.7 adjusted case rate, 11.3% positivity rate and 15% in the equity index as of press deadline this week.
All metrics were notable improvements over the prior week, with the daily new case rate down by nearly 10 cases per 100,000. A county must be in the red tier for at least five consecutive days before schools are permitted by the state to fully resume typical operations, with pandemic-appropriate protocols of course.
“We are seeing positive growth countywide,” Kelly King, the assistant superintendent of educational services, told the school board Tuesday.
The district this week resumed the few on-campus activities that it has started, after pausing them starting on Jan. 18 on the recommendation of the county Department of Public Health. This includes learning pods for elementary students, athletic conditioning, some specialized services and having a limited number of kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students back for class at Mann Elementary.
Ekchian said the county has increased the cohort size for these services to be up to 14 students with two adults and that GUSD has adjusted accordingly. Additionally, some teachers have voluntarily opened up their classrooms to become specialized service rooms for students with moderate-to-severe disabilities.
As of this week, the superintendent said she expected vaccinations for educators to be made available in March, although any educators in the 65-or-older bracket can certainly get their inoculations outside of that window.
Ekchian and other district leaders emphasized that even if the county finds itself in the red tier and schools can reopen, families and teachers will retain the option to finish the year with distance learning and teaching.
“Ultimately, when we’re able to make any decisions, we are going to continue to provide options,” board Vice President Shant Sahakian said. “The real decision point is for those students and families who want to come back. That’s the only decision there is really to make. We’re going to continue to offer options to continue to make sure we serve the diverse needs of our community.”
Officials also made certain to acknowledge those students and families who have been struggling the most throughout the year of distance of learning. Numerous reports have indicated that students are experiencing higher levels of depression and other mental health and emotional issues as a result of the separation from their peers, to say nothing of actual instruction just not being the same.
“All students do not learn the same,” Ekchian said. “All families are not experiencing the same circumstances. As someone said, we are all in the same storm, but we are not necessarily in the same boat.”
Gharpetian says she is pleased whenever she hears from families about how well their students are doing in spite of the circumstances but emphasized the need to consider the situation wholly.
“Believe me, there are many, many students who are struggling and parents who are struggling,” she said. “They are emotionally drained and depressed. We already know what’s happening with the learning loss. It’s great that your child is doing great at home with distance learning, but believe me, there are a lot of families who can’t say the same thing. We need to be mindful about those families as well.”