In its first official meeting of the year, the La Canada Unified School District governing board had much to discuss since it last convened on Dec. 15.
In the past month, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have spiked throughout Los Angeles County at an alarming rate, and the board deliberated over the possible suspension of the few on-campus activities currently underway, most notably those at La Cañada High School, on Tuesday.
Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Department of Public Health director, strongly recommended to district leaders in a conference call last week that they shut down schools for the remainder of the month due to the holiday surge.
The Los Angeles Unified School District shut down all of its campuses last month, and other districts have followed its lead, especially after last week’s call with public health officials.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the district intended to keep all of its in-person programs open before being “faced with a strong recommendation.”
“It seems like to perform our due diligence, there’s a need for board reflection of action or decision not to take action,” she added.
In-person services offered by LCUSD include special education day classes for all grade levels, resource specialist programs for Kindergarten through 3rd-graders, pods for high-risk, high-need students in grades 7-12 and conditioning for high school athletes.
LCUSD also reopened its three elementary schools in November after being granted a waiver by the county that permitted in-person instruction for children in transitional kindergarten through second grade.
The board scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13, to further discuss the issue and decide how to approach on-campus activities through January. The decision was made after the Outlook Valley Sun’s press deadline.
Despite a rise in coronavirus cases in La Cañada Flintridge, Sinnette said the district has not been affected.
“We have not seen positive cases based on community transmission on our campuses,” she said.
There have been positive cases among staff members but they were not exposed at any of La Cañada’s campuses. They had been infected while off campus, not in their LCUSD experiences, according to Sinnette.
A large part of the conversation was devoted to LCHS facilities being open to students, community members and club teams that use the fields.
Principal Jim Cartnal expressed great pride in the work put in from administrators, staff and coaches to provide a safe environment for student-athletes during their scheduled conditioning and skill-building exercises.
However, it has become increasingly difficult for school officials to monitor the facilities with the public visiting the campus for recreational use, and Cartnal said staff has had to ask members of the public arriving during the students’ time to leave and recommended that the board suspend all high school athletic activities for the time being.
“There’s not anyone that doesn’t recognize the absolute importance to social emotional well-being and mental health that sports has been,” said Cartnal, who added that the majority of coaches have already selected to suspend in-person activities. “It’s been an organizing principle for all of our kids. … Our facilities are markedly impacted by those who are not part of Spartan athletics coming on.”
Board member Joe Radabaugh also noticed more unmonitored activity at the high school and was “shocked” to see “the concentration of people I saw playing” basketball. In an effort to discourage large groups from playing, school officials took down the rims on Tuesday.
The board seemed to be in favor of suspending on-campus activities for LCHS athletes but was unsure of closing its fields for permitted joint-use partners such as club teams. As of Wednesday, LCHS was the only school in the Rio Hondo League — which includes San Marino, South Pasadena, Monrovia, Pasadena Blair and Temple City — to continue in-person conditioning for athletes.
UPDATE ON FACILITIES PROJECTS
The community and governing board got a preview of upcoming projects on campuses thanks to the funds from the Measure LCF bond.
Harold Pierre, a project manager working with LCUSD as a consultant, updated the board on the Palm Crest Elementary modernization project that will cost more than $31 million.
Barrier removals to correct Americans with Disabilities Act deficiencies and an improvement of utilities is expected to begin by March, as well as the demolition of the old district office.
Construction for the two-story modular classroom building is scheduled to start in June and end in August 2022. The modernization of the existing classrooms will then commence and should be completed by August 2023.
Schematics for new PCR parking lot have been completed and that project has moved into the next design phase.
The LCHS campus will also have a few upgrades, most notably the south side of campus. The design for a 40-meter pool facility with locker rooms, restrooms and storage for equipment has been completed and submitted to the Division of State Architect for review.
The project — expected to cost $13.87 million — includes an expansion of the south parking lot and construction of new outdoor basketball courts. Construction is expected to begin in May and should be completed by October 2022.
A project to improve security and wayfinding at the high school will be done by the end of the month. Pierre said the main objective of the project was to reduce the number of entry points on campus to better control access.
The designs for reparations of spalling concrete and guardrails at buildings A and B the choral building have been approved by the DSA but a date to begin construction has not been determined.
Pierre also presented future items for the board to consider. The central heating and cooling systems at the high school need to be replaced, as well as utilities. He also recommended that the board look into purchasing an emergency generator for the district office.
LCUSD has a positive cash flow in terms of bond sales this year but is projected to see negative cash flow in 2022 and 2023. Pierre assured the board that the program contingency would cover them in those years.