Councilman Bob Blumenfield said Wednesday that he has requested a report from Los Angeles County health officials on the details of plans to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which he criticized as being unclear thus far.
The councilman said he also wants the report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to include details on the plan to keep K-12 campuses mostly closed until mid-November, which was recently announced.
“I constantly get calls and messages from parents who have heard about some schools getting exemptions or campuses being opened and I have received only vague responses back from DPH on what’s actually allowed and the metrics needed for reopening,” Blumenfield said.
“I’m in no way saying `open all the schools’ yet, but with the digital divide and learning-gap issues many students face, parents need some clarity now about the next steps.”
Calls and emails to the DPH seeking comment on Blumenfield’s announcement were not immediately returned, but on Sept. 7 the department released guidelines to allow certain students to attend school in person in reduced settings.
The DPH’s announcement said schools would be able to offer small in-person classes for children with special needs at no more than 10% capacity at a time, with priority being given to students with disabilities and students who are learning to speak English. These classes for children who need special services could allow at least 200,000 students back to campus across the county.
Blumenfield said these exemptions acknowledge in-person instruction is important to a child’s education and development, but they do not do enough to address the range of children who are suffering as a result of distance learning.
The cognitive and educational importance of in-person instruction are well documented, Blumenfield said, and studies showing detriments of prolonged distance learning have caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to strongly recommend in-person instruction for younger students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The dizzying changes in guidelines and pronouncements by health authorities over the past many months haven’t changed the basic facts about COVID-19,” Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday. “It’s a highly contagious and deadly disease. We’re going to be careful and we’re going to be deliberate about bringing students back to schools.”
The councilman said uneven distribution of and access to communication technologies and resources, — known as the digital divide — makes distance learning “an unsuitable approach to education for students who are already deprived of valuable opportunities and resources in the traditional education environment.
“It’s crucial for everyone to understand that we are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but concerned parents deserve to know what’s being done to make sure their kids aren’t falling behind,” Blumenfield said.
In the past few weeks, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks has opened 60 alternative learning centers across the city, Blumenfield said.
These sites are fully compliant with DPH guidelines and offer supervised learning spaces, free internet access, recreational activities and more to elementary and middle school students, he said.
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