Local school officials have begun the process of preparing applications and obtaining the necessary letters of support to eventually begin applying to Los Angeles County for waivers to reopen limited facets of in-person elementary instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Unified School District continues to plan a return to outdoor conditioning for student-athletes and anticipate hopeful next steps for expanding in-person services to special education students and English language learners.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get questions — ‘When are we opening up? When are we getting our students back to school?’” board President Armina Gharpetian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The county, they’re moving very cautiously and very conservatively. We need to take those baby steps to get there.”
The county had, as of this week, met two of the three metrics set by health officials to qualify for reopening schools on a limited basis: Its testing positivity rate is 2.8%, and its equity-adjusted positivity rate is 4.4%, both within parameters. However, the county continues at a daily new case rate of 7.4 per 100,000 residents, and must fall below seven to achieve the third benchmark.
Until then, individual elementary schools may apply for a waiver to reopen for transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade. (Districts cannot apply as a whole.) Afterward, when the county graduates from “widespread” risk of contamination to “substantial,” districts can decide whether to work on reopening plans without needing a waiver.
“This does not mean ‘all students back,’” explained Assistant Superintendent Kelly King. “This does mean still maintaining all of the public health guidelines of cohorting, small groups and health requirements.”
In-person instruction classroom groups can be no larger than 12 students and two adults and must remain together for all activities. Additionally, relevant labor groups, PTAs and community organizations must endorse the reopening plans for the schools before applications can be turned in.
Once received, applications are reviewed and then schools are sorted according to priority. Sites with larger percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch get enhanced priority. A maximum of 30 schools can be approved for reopening waivers each week, and efforts will be made to distribute opening permits equally among the five county supervisorial districts.
“After the submission, it’s two to three weeks for [the county Department of Public Health] to even review that, and then you go in the line of which week yours might rise to the top to be approved,” King added, noting that on-site reviews by health officials will be conducted.
“We are not forcing students to come to the school sites,” Gharpetian added. “At this point, it would be optional. If parents want their kids to continue with the distant learning, they are absolutely free to do that.”
Coaches and administrators also are outlining plans to revive outdoor conditioning for fall athletes, whose sports seasons are currently expected to kick off Dec. 12 at the earliest. Coaches will have to be trained in protocol developed by the district. No more than 50 students will be able to use one outdoor space at a time, and will form consistent groups of up to 10 players and two coaches.
Formally, schools here can begin conditioning on Monday should their plans be approved by the district.
Board member Greg Krikorian emphasized the importance for the district to “measure twice, cut once” with regard to conditioning plans.
“I’m fully supportive of this,” he said. “I’m excited about it and think it’s important. At the same time, I want to make sure we have everything lined up, with things that we might not see and may not take a look at. It will be helpful seeing what plans and what different programs are being done that we can learn from.”
Krikorian added that however the district figures out a plan for conditioning might factor into how else schools begin to reopen in the future. One idea he had was outdoor teaching.
“I saw in San Diego County, they had these huge tent cities on one campus,” he added. “There are opportunities there to think about.”
Vice President Shant Sahakian indicated support for the gradual planning and the holistic approach of reopening plans.
“At some point, we have to have the conversation about priorities and where the COVID dollars are going for our schools,” he said.
Echoed board member Jennifer Freemon: “It’s about more than just athletics. It’s about our whole district and how can we start that process of return to normalcy and what that looks like and what we need to do.”