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Essential California: A back-to-school trickle for LAUSD

A teacher directing a line of kindergarteners walking at a distance with their arms spread
Teacher Lilia Guerrero directs kindergarteners on their first day back to class at the 9th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, April 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The phased reopening of classrooms in the nation’s second-largest school district began Tuesday, with some of the youngest elementary school students making their return to L.A. public schools.

[See also: “Los Angeles public schools will begin reopening this week. Here’s what you need to know” in the Los Angeles Times]

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All of the students had received a mandatory coronavirus test before arriving, which will be followed by weekly testing on campuses. Among other safety protocols, students also have to participate in a daily health screening before entering classrooms.

At Heliotrope Avenue Elementary in Maywood, school staff member Sylvia Vasquez ran into some rather adorable roadblocks while helping perform those mandatory health checks. Tasked with asking kindergarteners and first-graders how they were feeling, Vasquez found that more than a few were too enthusiastic to exactly comprehend the health question.

Instead, as my colleague Howard Blume writes, the young charges kept giving the same one-word answer: “Excited.”

[Read the story: “LAUSD welcomes excited students, concerned parents on first day of school after a year” in the Los Angeles Times]

Heliotrope was among 61 elementary and 11 early education schools to reopen Tuesday morning, the first of some 1,400 campuses that will reopen by the end of the month in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As Blume has reported, the district’s gradual and partial reopening plan was heavily influenced by teachers union demands, along with strict safety imperatives shared by the district and union.

About 1 in 3 students were expected to return initially at Heliotrope, roughly mirroring the statistics districtwide. About 3 in 10 district students are expected to return based on survey results so far.

District survey data so far show fewer students are returning to campus if they live in communities with high disease and death rates from COVID-19, as Blume reports. My colleague Paloma Esquivel has also written at length about the wide disparity of opinions parents and caregivers hold on returning to classrooms, and their deep fears about safety.

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[Read more: “Parents struggle with a new dilemma: Is it safe to send kids back to school?” in the Los Angeles Times]

Tuesday’s limited classroom return was restricted to children in first grade and below, with older students at those elementary schools joining later in the week. The majority of LAUSD elementary and early childhood campuses will reopen next week, with middle- and high-schoolers returning the week after that.

As my colleague Sonja Sharp has reported, supervised care, not instruction, will make up most of the school day for the returning students.

For more about about school, kids and parenting, sign up for Sonja Sharp’s newsletter, 8 to 3.

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

California officials moved to temporarily stop administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, on the recommendation of federal health officials following reports of six serious blood clots nationwide. Officials characterized the stoppage as a cautionary move and emphasized that the reactions that prompted it are exceedingly rare. The pause in J&J vaccines will not change California’s plan to expand vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older starting Thursday, or to fully reopen the economy two months from now, officials said. Los Angeles Times

Paul Flores arrested in the disappearance of Kristin Smart after years of suspicion: The arrest comes nearly 25 years after Smart went missing while walking back to her dorm at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1996. For much of the time since she vanished, authorities have identified fellow student Paul Flores as the prime suspect in the case. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

Cooler temperatures and light drizzle are on tap in L.A. through Thursday, but things will heat up this weekend. Los Angeles Times

Hollywood heavyweights are rallying to save ArcLight Cinemas after the owner of the beloved theater chain announced that its doors would not reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

“It’s definitely a scene again.” Inside the return of Hollywood power dining. The Hollywood Reporter

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Biden plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11: President Biden is planning to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan and will complete the pullout before Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the United States’ longest war, according to a senior U.S. official. Los Angeles Times

L.A. icon Angelyne and former adult film star Mary Carey are ready to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall: The women, both of whom ran in the 2003 recall election to replace then-Gov. Gray Davis, have announced they will run to succeed Newsom as governor should the recall effort qualify for the ballot. Los Angeles Times

A very blond woman holding a pink fan in front of her face that says "Angelyne"
Angelyne and her famous pink Corvette in 2017.
(Tara Ziemba / Getty Images)

An ambitious plan to ban California fracking falls short in the Legislature: A far-reaching proposal to outlaw hydraulic fracturing and ban oil and gas wells from operating near homes, schools and healthcare facilities failed in the California Legislature, a major setback for progressive leaders who hail the state as the nation’s bellwether on environmental protection. Los Angeles Times

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The Newsom administration announced plans to close a state prison in Susanville next year, shutting down a site that employed more than 1,000 people in rural Northern California and served as a home base for inmate firefighter training for decades. Sacramento Bee

COPS, CRIME AND COURTS

Sacramento hires its first inspector general to investigate police misconduct: The position was one of two significant police reforms passed last summer. Sacramento Bee

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Merced is the only California county still in the state’s most restrictive purple COVID reopening tier. Inyo County, which up until recently was also in the purple tier, was promoted to red on Tuesday. Merced Sun-Star

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

When white nationalists failed to turn out in threatening numbers Sunday at a Huntington Beach rally, many counterprotesters viewed it as a victory. But those who track extremist movements say that the truth is more complex and troubling. Los Angeles Times

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A scenic stretch of Highway 1 near Big Sur is set to reopen by April 30: Work to repair a huge piece of roadway that crumbled during a storm is nearly two months ahead of schedule. Associated Press

“The U.S. is entering a boba crisis.” Boba tea shops all over the Bay Area and the rest of the country are running out of their namesake boba, as shipping containers from Asia pile up at West Coast ports. San Francisco Chronicle

A poem to start your Wednesday: “In a Time of Peace” by Ilya Kaminsky. Poets.org

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: quite dreary, 63. San Diego: similarly blah, 61. San Francisco: indecently nice, 61. San Jose: mainly sunny, 70. Fresno: sunny, 72. Sacramento: sunny, 73.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Jerry Kaplan:

Making the move to California in the early 1960s, I look back at the experience as a “Grapes of Wrath” adventure including a wobbly, tall roof rack holding our remaining household possessions. Arriving in Los Angeles, my father attempted to enter the Hollywood Freeway at a busy on-ramp. After safely completing the 3,000-mile cross-country trip, he, like all good Massachusetts drivers, stopped at the bottom of the ramp before entering the freeway. A loaded double trailer truck had to go up onto the ice planting to swerve around us. Thankfully, I’m still alive to vividly remember that day.

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

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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.


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