No campus in Los Angeles County will be allowed to reopen to all K-12 students until at least November, although schools can begin to offer small in-person classes for children with special needs at no more than 10% of campus capacity at one time, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
Students, parents and educators had been hoping that progress against the coronavirus might allow campuses to reopen on a faster track. The small in-person classes for children who need special services, announced last week, could allow at least 200,000 students back to campus across the county.
No districts are currently required to offer in-person services to students, and officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers union have said they oppose any full campus reopenings at this time, citing safety concerns.
Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill has addressed the reopening of schools in previous board of education meetings and updates throughout the summer, telling stakeholders that the BUSD will take a more cautious approach toward allowing students and staff back on campus.
He reiterated that message on Friday, saying, “We want to return when it’s safe. I think [health officials] are being thoughtful about it and we’re going to follow their guideline.”
In regard to allowing small cohorts of students with special needs, Hill said the district is “working hard” to make it happen but did not specify when it might.
Some smaller school districts and private schools had hoped to open elementary campuses through a state-permitted waiver process, but Ferrer said the county would not grant waivers. State guidelines allow for such waivers to help young students who have particular difficulties with online learning.
Ferrer explained the county’s new policies in two calls Thursday with school district leaders. One was a Department of Public Health briefing; the other was a briefing arranged by the county Office of Education, which provides support services to 80 school districts. The Los Angeles Times was able to listen to both briefings, and KFI radio on Thursday aired an audio recording of comments Ferrer made.
Ferrer said the county’s approach is part of a multipronged state and county effort to open schools safely.
First, small groups can begin coming to campuses as soon as Monday and no approval from the county is required, provided that schools attest they are following required safety guidelines, Ferrer said, according to the Times.
The students who come back must be defined as having special needs. Top priority will be given to students with disabilities and students who are learning to speak English. Individual schools and school districts have flexibility to identify which students need in-person instruction.
Students can meet one-on-one with a teacher or staff member or in groups as large as 12 with as many as two adult supervisors or teachers.
A campus cannot be at more than 10% of capacity at any given time.
However, there is no defined limit on how many students can be served over multiple days. For example, one group of students could be served on campus two days a week and another group on a different two days. Such a plan could add up to a lot of students — close to 100,000 in Los Angeles Unified alone, for example, according to the Times.
School leaders on the call with Ferrer expressed some excitement about the possibility of bringing some students back, potentially with minimal delay, the Times reported. It was an opening for which they had been waiting.
The county plans to study data from this smaller-scale startup over the next six weeks before making any conclusions about a broader school reopening, Ferrer said. That’s why a general reopening won’t happen until at least November, the Times reported.
Several months ago, officials had planned for campuses to reopen in the fall, but this target was pushed back indefinitely by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July. Now, school reopenings are based on a county’s pandemic health status or the approval of the waiver applications for elementary schools.
L.A. County is in the highest tier for danger from the pandemic, which means a general reopening of schools is not currently permitted under state orders. Long Beach Unified, the county’s second-largest school system, told parents Thursday that the district would continue online-only teaching through the winter break to provide instructional stability.
County health officials announced on Thursday a total of 1,388 coronavirus cases have been reported in Burbank, an uptick of 45 cases from the previous week.