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8 to 3: Tents, tutoring and armies of child-care workers — inside LAUSD’s extended-day program

The majority of Los Angeles Unified School District students will still be learning from home when classrooms begin to reopen this week — but if your kids are among those headed back to campus, chances are they’ll spend more hours in day care than with their teacher.

For more than 70% of returning elementary schoolers, those hours will probably stretch from the end of in-person instruction at 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., though for some it may be from 8 a.m. until after lunch. And for 64% of middle schoolers, it could be several full days a week, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

I reached out to mom Renee Bailey, whose kindergartner, Cali, heads back to the classroom this month. “Parents are asking for child care because we’re working,” she said.

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But while the precise details of face-to-face instruction have been bargained and debated in public for weeks, the parameters of this extended care remain largely unknown. And by unknown, I mean nobody knows them. Providers for more than 400 district schools told me that although they are working around the clock to make it happen, they simply do not know how this program is going to work.

A little girl and a woman high-five each other in front of a laptop
Cali Corbin, 5, a kindergartner at Westwood Charter School, gets a high five from her mom Renee Bailey after answering a math exercise correctly.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s what we do know: Supt. Austin Beutner promised that all students who want it will have some form of adult supervision at school for eight hours a day, five days a week. And a network of district and community-based providers is hiring thousands of workers to supply it.

Among the things we don’t know: how many children will actually return to campus, where they will be cared for when they’re not in class, and whether the district can muster the personnel they need to pull this off in time.

“Community-based organizations are building armies to make this happen,” said Julee Brooks, chief executive of Woodcraft Rangers, which will provide care at about 50 LAUSD schools. “It almost feels like a WPA moment right now.”

Pre-pandemic, these groups mostly ran after-school programs, working under the auspices of LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell. They are old hands at the kind of social-emotional learning experts say students need. Most have been hosting in-person enrichment and remote learning support since last summer.

“Our staff have been putting themselves at risk through the whole past year,” said Eric Gurna, president and CEO of the nonprofit LA’s Best, which will provide care at almost 200 district schools. “Now our staff is prepared to go back in a very stressful, dynamic, uncertain situation, and there’s a lot we still don’t know.”

District spokesperson Barbara Jones said that non-instructional time will include “one-on-one tutoring, recess, lunch and extracurricular activities like painting, dance and yoga,” and that it will take place in libraries, classrooms or enclosed tents with power generators and ventilation fans. But providers say that many of the schools they serve have no spare classrooms or tents, and that they have no idea where or how they will get them. At least two Westside schools have told parents their children will be cared for off campus, but not how they will be transported there.

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But all that is still arithmetic. Getting the most popular programs to work may approach abstract algebra.

It’s long been clear that students on the Westside and in parts of the San Fernando Valley were coming back to campus in much larger numbers than those elsewhere. That means at least some of those elementary schools will have to run in-person classes after lunch because there won’t be room for all the students at one time. It also means they’ll need two shifts of extended care — one in the morning, and a second in the afternoon.

To make matters more difficult, the funding structure for expanded care is murkiest where it’s most in demand. Schools serving middle-class families don’t typically qualify for some of the same funding as low-income schools.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Bailey, the South L.A. mom, whose daughter attends Westwood Charter Elementary School, where 91% of students plan to return. “If we were following CDC guidelines, all students would be able to return to campus, and we wouldn’t have this issue.”

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Last month, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that students be kept just three feet apart. But LAUSD has so far stuck with six. The decision means care workers will spend roughly twice as many hours face to face with students this spring as district teachers do. And with most earning between $15 and $18 an hour, extended care providers make far less than the educators whose labor they replace — just as they did pre-vaccine, when many were in person with students while teachers were working from home.

“It’s a continuation of what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” with low-paid child care replacing higher-paid education work, said Marcy Whitebook, founder and co-director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. “You’re seeing a disparity about how we value these jobs.”

I’m a shop steward in my union local: I know that organized labor’s job is to protect its members, and their safety above all. In this, UTLA has excelled. But we can’t pretend safety doesn’t come at a cost, or that we don’t know who pays it — not at $15 an hour.

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For more on this, check out an expanded story I’ve written that will publish on the L.A. Times website in the morning.

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Why 3 feet versus 6 feet is a game changer for in-person classroom learning

When it comes to classroom distancing, the space between desks is a crucial component to school schedules and the amount of time students get for in-person learning.

A three-foot separation is the current recommended standard set by the CDC, and California, too, “strongly recommends” at least three feet for students in classrooms.

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L.A. County health officials, who formerly required a six-foot separation, have aligned with state and federal guidance. But they allow local district leaders to make their own decisions on whether to go beyond three feet, as does the state.

The difference between three and six feet is crucial. A three-foot distance essentially allows for the return of a typical full class within the typical California classroom. A six-foot separation, in contrast, logistically requires students to attend class in person on a staggered, part-time basis. The staggered attendance formats are called hybrid plans because they include both in-person instruction and remote learning during school hours from home.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, is adhering to a six-foot distance.

A man points to desks spaced apart in a high school classroom
English teacher Elmer Garcia shows desks at least 6 feet apart in a classroom at Panorama High School on March 10 in Panorama City.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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Storytime alert! Children’s books lack diversity across gender and race

Children’s books are more likely to feature white, male characters, despite increased awareness of representation in recent decades, researchers from the University of Chicago and Columbia University say in this study.

Using artificial intelligence, the researchers analyzed the images and texts of 1,333 books, more than 160,000 pages, from across several award categories. They found the books tend to feature lighter-skinned and male characters.

Female characters were more likely to be seen in images, but not “heard” in the text, except for books focused on girls and women. And when female characters were featured, they were predominantly white.

Researchers also noted one “surprising” finding: Children characters were more likely than adults to be shown with lighter skin.

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Parents: This is how UC admissions officers are explaining their decisions

Although I’m still in the preschool years, I understand that among the most stressful times in the life of a high school senior are the college admission decision months — and that season is upon them. My colleague Teresa Watanabe explains how UC admissions officers made their decisions during a record-breaking application year.

Back in primary education: L.A. Unified is gearing up to begin reopening elementary schools on Tuesday. Coronavirus tests are required and there will be plenty of hand sanitizer on hand, writes Howard Blume.

And here’s what else we’re reading ...

In the Fresno area, a group of teachers in the Clovis Unified School District is organizing what would be the first union in that district’s 62-year history. They say they were motivated by the district’s decision to reopen classes before many teachers were ready. The Fresno Bee has the story.

Over at EdSource, Diana Lambert examines the implications of opening up COVID-19 vaccines to children, and how California parents feel about that.

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And USA Today has a story about an English teacher at San Marcos High School near San Diego who went viral with a Zoom rant to students, complaining about parents who are unhappy with virtual school. “If your parent wants to come talk to me about how I’m not doing a good enough job in distance learning based on what you need as an individual, just dare them to come out because I’m so sick to my stomach of parents trying to tell educators how to do their job,” Alissa Piro said. Parents didn’t seem to appreciate her point.

Question? Comment? Thoughts to share?

Email us at parenting@latimes.com.


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