Elementary schools will be permitted to reopen for in-class instruction as early as this week due to dropping coronavirus rates, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was expected to officially announce Tuesday.
In-person instruction has been unavailable to the vast majority of the roughly 1.5 million students in public and private schools countywide since March 2020, but the state permits elementary schools to reopen as soon as counties reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000, a milestone Los Angeles health officials said Monday they expected to reach effective Tuesday.
The news means that schools could be permitted to offer in-class instruction for students in grades TK-6. All schools wishing to reopen must submit plans to the County Department of Public Health and the California Department of Public Health certifying that they have implemented a full range of safety measures to permit a safe reopening.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn sent out a celebratory tweet regarding the announcement.
“L.A. County has officially reached the state’s threshold for reopening elementary schools,” she wrote Monday. “Starting tomorrow (Tuesday), schools can reopen for grades K-6 if they have a waiver or submitted their COVID Safety Plans in advance…
“This is what we have been working towards,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who has worn your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in L.A. County are dropping. Now we can continue the work getting our kids and teachers safely back in classrooms where they belong.”
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was expected to release additional information about Los Angeles County’s school reopening threshold at a news briefing scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Her department on Monday issued the following statement: “This is an encouraging milestone and we look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to ensure safety for students, teachers and staff returning to schools.”
For Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, district officials and the teachers union are in negotiations over a return to campuses. It’s unclear if either side is ready for in-person instruction to resume.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner earlier on Monday said, regarding the matter of when schools would reopen, that district has done its part in comprehensively ensuring that every campus is safe, including:
— Retrofitting 80 million square feet of school buildings to make sure air is properly filtered;
— Cleaning and sanitizing every room in every school;
— Providing masks and PPE;
— Reconfiguring classrooms and facilities to maintain social distance; and
— Creating a school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.
Beutner and other officials and union leaders from several of the state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, have previously balked at the governor’s reopening plan for schools, claiming it falls short on funding for urban school districts.
The United Teachers Los Angeles has called for campuses to remain closed until teachers and staff can be vaccinated — a position opposed by Newsom.
For vaccinations, Beutner announced Monday that the LAUSD’s first school-based COVID-19 vaccination center would open Wednesday at Roybal Learning Center at 1200 Colton St. near downtown Los Angeles. Moderna vaccines will be administered by LAUSD school nurses and other licensed health care professionals.
Debra Duardo, Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying, in part, “I welcome the encouraging news that Los Angeles County has reached the threshold in COVID-19 case rates to allow our elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction. …
“The Los Angeles County Office of Education remains committed to guiding and supporting our 80 districts in addressing the impact of COVID-19 in the second half of the school year and beyond. This includes identifying interventions to address learning loss and working with districts to develop protocols to safely celebrate the class of 2021, including options for commencement ceremonies this spring.
“The road ahead for our public schools will be challenging on many fronts long after students have returned to campus. I will continue to advocate for our region’s some 2 million children to ensure that resources are directed to our most vulnerable students and support efforts to address longstanding educational inequities.”
California health officials also have recently released an interactive map that allows Angelenos and others across the state to track the status of campus reopenings. The Safe Schools Reopening Map provides data on the status of reopening and safety planning for school districts, charter and private schools in Los Angeles and across California. Officials said they hope it will help communities and school staff evaluate their own reopening plans.
Schools will update their information every two weeks on the map, and the California Department of Public Health will add data on reported outbreaks in each school district and information about COVID-19 testing.
“As COVID-19 conditions continue to improve and vaccinations ramp up throughout the state, this map will provide local communities with accessible, up-to-date information on how districts in their communities and beyond are adapting to the pandemic, including safety planning and implementation,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This map is one of many resources we have made available that will help school staff and families make informed decisions as we safely reopen our schools.”
The map was created through a partnership between the state, county office of education and the California Collaborative in Education Excellence. It can be accessed at bit.ly/3jHh1xz.