Children at a Los Angeles school
Children at a Los Angeles school. Courtesy LAUSD

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 capacity at one time, says County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

Students, parents and educators had been hoping that progress against the coronavirus might allow for campuses to reopen on a faster tract. 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 both the L.A. Unified School District and the district’s teachers union have said they are opposed to any full campus reopenings at this time, citing safety concerns.

Some smaller school districts and private schools had hoped to open elementary campuses through a state-permitted waiver process, but Ferrer said that 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 and district leaders. One was a health department briefing; the other was a briefing arranged by the L.A. County Office of Education, which provides support services to the county’s 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 that 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. Schools and school districts have flexibility to identify which students need in-person instruction.

Students can meet one-on-one with a teacher or another 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 start-up 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 instruction through the winter break to provide instructional stability.

The county on Thursday reported another 42 coronavirus-related deaths, while Long Beach health officials announced three more fatalities, bringing the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 6,131.

County health officials announced 1,239 new cases, while Long Beach reported 49 and Pasadena added two, lifting the overall cumulative countywide total to 251,075.

A total of 940 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Thursday.

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