Nearly 60 schools notified Los Angeles County of their intent to reopen this week at limited capacity, and the La Cañada Unified School District isn’t far from doing the same.
Public Health announced earlier this month that schools could reopen small classes for students with individual education plans, students in special education and English-language learners beginning Sept. 14.
In an email to the Outlook Valley Sun, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said she anticipates “the first few cohorts of [LCUSD] students may return to campuses at the end of September or early October.”
“We are in the process of bargaining the effects of working conditions with [teachers and employees associations] to allow this to happen,” Sinnette said. “The cohort restrictions are strict and once a teacher joins an in-person cohort, they are prohibited from delivering in-person instruction or assessments to any student outside the cohort. So our first priority will be to bring back to campus cohorts of our highest at-risk, highest-level-of-need students.
“Our special education staff has been working on how best to structure this and have spent the current week formalizing a proposal. Given the cohort restrictions, we must have a plan that maximizes the learning opportunities for our special education students who are struggling most with distance instruction and also continues to maximize opportunities for special education who will continue to engage in distance instruction.”
The county has strict health and safety protocols in place for all school sites, but Sinnette assured that local campuses are stocked with all necessary personal protective equipment to support students and staff.
There is still no date marking the return to sites for remaining students. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that schools would not reopen until after the election, a contentious comment that she has since clarified.
“It had nothing to do with the election per se, as much as it had to do with — we need about six weeks of implementation for the school reopenings that are going to be happening so that we can have a lot of assessment data that will help guide and inform any decisions we make,” Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “ … I apologize for any confusion that I may have caused by referencing the elections in November.”
In a conference call, Ferrer told school district superintendents that the Department of Public Health would be “assessing the outcomes of bringing the small cohorts to campus to determine the next steps in lifting restrictions,” according to Sinnette.
“She said they would be evaluating data regarding the number of cases, school and district outbreak management responses, the fidelity with which districts follow the health protocols, community spread, the impacts of the typical influenza season and what is happening in other counties and states with reopening schools,” Sinnette said. “When all of those metrics are assessed in early November, [Public Health] will then consider things like accepting elementary school reopening waivers, or potentially reopening schools in the hybrid model at a 50% or lower capacity.”
The district is also looking into allowing La Cañada High School athletes and coaches to use the facilities for conditioning and practices. Administrators are still developing a schedule for high school athletics, which are expected to begin in December should public health guidelines allow it.
“I would anticipate forward movement here relatively soon, pending direction from the governing board,” Sinnette said.
Unfortunately, there isn’t as much optimism for LCHS 7/8 athletics. Three middle schools from the 210 League, which includes the Spartans, will not field any teams, and sharing facilities with the high school makes scheduling games and practices a logistical nightmare. The California Interscholastic Federation, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, condensed its calendar into two seasons due to the pandemic, allowing each sports team to have a full season.
“[LCHS athletic Director] Carrie Saks told me that three of the schools opted out for the season, but we’re not there yet,” LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold said. “It’s because of the issues we have with facilities with the high school and the condensed CIF schedule. … I don’t see how we can have a season here for any sport.”
“High school sports have a longer season, and our seasons tend to be about eight weeks long with fewer games. … I’m hopeful for [LCHS 7/8 athletes] to get a season and we can make the necessary adjustments. We may be able to squeeze something in.”
— City News Service contributed to this report.