Essential California: The messy reality of reopening L.A. elementary schools

A brightly colored elementary school calendar set to March 13
A May 2020 photograph of Mrs. Miranda’s second-grade classroom at Cerritos Elementary School in Glendale, where items remained as they were since March 13.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Many Los Angeles students have not seen the inside of a classroom since March. Now, after a brutal winter surge and nearly a year of remote learning, falling coronavirus case rates in Los Angeles County have finally cleared the state threshold to reopen elementary schools.

But Monday’s big announcement hardly means campus doors are swinging open across L.A. County. Just because a district can reopen doesn’t mean it will immediately do so. It’s a local decision based on the readiness of all concerned, including the school system, as L.A. County Office of Education superintendent Debra Duardo put it.

[Read the story: “Lower infection rates mean elementary schools can reopen immediately. But it’s complicated” in the Los Angeles Times]

As my colleagues Howard Blume, Paloma Esquivel and Laura Newberry report, the situation is complicated, with an uneven return playing out across the county.


Here’s how they explain it: “Smaller school systems in more affluent communities — and many private schools — appear poised to quickly expand in-person instruction; many have been calling for it. But in other districts, concerns about vaccinations for school staff and community concerns about broader health issues are making for harder decisions. Each district or private school has both the leeway and responsibility to decide how soon and how far to go.”

[Previously: “Schools in more affluent areas move faster to reopen than those in low-income communities” in the Los Angeles Times]

There are 80 K-12 school districts under the purview of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, including Los Angeles Unified. For LAUSD, the county clearing the reopening threshold for elementary schools is just one piece in a much larger puzzle.

As my colleagues reported Monday, an immediate reopening of LAUSD campuses is not yet on the horizon. District officials and the teachers union remain in negotiations over what a return to campus for the nation’s second-largest school district would look like — and it isn’t clear that either side is ready for an immediate resumption of in-person instruction.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the board of education delayed a scheduled Tuesday vote on a tentative heath and safety agreement for reopening schools. The board said it tabled the vote to hold a closed-door meeting on a legal issue, but as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, it was unclear why it couldn’t do both.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

In other L.A. schools news, a major overhaul of the Los Angeles School Police Department: On Tuesday, the Board of Education approved a plan that cuts a third of school police officers, bans the use of pepper spray on students and diverts funds from the department to improve the education of Black students. The decision comes after a yearlong campaign by students, activists and community members to reimagine the school police force, which they maintain disproportionately targets Black and Latino children. Los Angeles Times


Two more COVID-19 vaccination super-sites are opening in California, further expanding the state’s capacity to dole out doses even as supplies remain frustratingly limited. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “Fauci more cautious on COVID-19 vaccine rollout, pushing ‘open season’ to late May or June” in the Los Angeles Times]

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


You can shop at the LACMA gift store, but the galleries remain strictly off limits. Culture columnist Carolina Miranda makes the case for why museums must reopen, and how the state’s “wildly uneven” reopening criteria “speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense.” Los Angeles Times

Why was there an alligator farm at Lincoln Park? It was one of many odd amusements of L.A.’s past. Los Angeles Times

Vintage postcard shows alligator pulling a girl on a cart with the caption "Exceeding the Speed Limit"
A vintage souvenir postcard.
(Los Angeles Times)

Inventor. Criminal. Trans pioneer. A forgotten L.A. iconoclast finally gets her due. Los Angeles Times

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


In a self-described bid to fight “cancel culture,” this California lawmaker wants to make political affiliation a protected class. Various classes — such as race, gender and religious creed — are protected under California’s anti-discrimination laws, but the list does not currently extend to political leanings. Los Angeles Times


The COVID-19 death rate among Latino residents of L.A. County remains triple the rate for white residents, even as the winter surge fades. By the end of January, average daily death rates for all races and ethnicities dropped — but they fell more slowly for Latino and Black residents. Los Angeles Times


After receiving a lowball appraisal of their newly renovated Bay Area home, a Black couple had a white friend pose as the owner for a second appraisal of the home. The home was appraised as being worth nearly 50% more the second time around. Nothing had changed, except the race of the supposed owner and the family photos on display. ABC 7

For a retired restaurant owner in Gold Country and her “upbeat society of cooks,” delivering free homemade lasagna is a way to spread kindness during the pandemic. “A home-cooked meal that somebody sat down and prepared for them speaks a lot more to people who are struggling than going to a food bank and dropping off supplies.” Calaveras Enterprise


“The force of the blow spun me around and threw me down into the creek head first.” On surviving a bear attack in California’s Trinity Alps. SF Gate

Mustard season is here. Here are 10 spots in the North Bay to see the fields of yellow flowers. Sonoma Magazine

A poem to to start your Wednesday: “Grace” by Sarah Gambito.

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at

For the record: Edie Ceccarelli is not the oldest living native Californian, as yesterday’s newsletter stated, but she is believed to be the oldest native Californian still living in California. Spanish supercentenarian Maria Branyas, whose place of birth was recently verified, was born in San Francisco in 1907 before moving to Spain in 1915.


Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 64. San Francisco: sunny, 61. San Jose: sunny, 63. Fresno: sunny, 61. Sacramento: sunny, 63.


Today’s California memory comes from David Calderon:


After decades living in the barrios of Los Angeles, I finally had the resources to transplant my family to the city of Monrovia. In our first week, our house was visited by a herd of deer, foxes, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, countless squirrels and birds, but it was the 800-pound bear that demolished our trash can in search of food that crystallized the reality that we were not in the inner city anymore. It was the best move we ever made. My children have firsthand knowledge of nature’s creatures, something I wish every kid in the inner city would have an opportunity to know.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.