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Private schools say they’re ready to open and are pushing L.A. County to let them

School official installs plexiglass barrier on a counter.
Mike Custer, director of facilities at Village Christian School in Sun Valley, installs a temporary sneeze guard made out of plexiglass. The school has invested $100,000 in safety measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A coalition of private schools, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called Monday for the County Board of Supervisors and public health officials to begin accepting waiver applications to allow elementary schools to open — an issue that Board Chair Kathryn Barger said would be discussed at their Tuesday meeting. Calling itself the “Students First Coalition,” the group also includes Village Christian School and several other religious organizations.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District on Monday penned its own letter, backed by several South Bay mayors, also urging the county to accept waiver applications.

The letters included at least one prominent signatory from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We have been waiting and working within the state and county guidelines toward preparing our school for the possibility of reopening,” said Tom Konjoyan, head of school at Village Christian School, a nondenominational Sun Valley campus for preschool through 12th grade.

Konjoyan opened his campus Monday to show off rooms set up for fewer than 20 students, triangular desks with plexiglass partitions, portable handwashing and sanitizing stations and large tents for outdoor classes. According to Konjoyan, the school has spent $100,000 on personal protective equipment, including temporal thermometers, masks and cleaning supplies.

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His sentiments reflect the growing impatience among many private schools and small school districts, especially those that serve affluent communities, that believe they can safely reopen for their youngest students, who have the most difficulties with online learning.

A letter from private schools to Los Angeles County supervisors and health officials in regards to opening up schools.

Under current guidelines, no campus in Los Angeles County is able to reopen to all K-12 students until at least November, although schools were recently authorized to offer small in-person classes for children with special needs, at no more than 10% of capacity at one time, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said.

Under state guidelines, elementary schools can reopen under a waiver application process in which schools must prove to county officials that they have strict COVID-19 safety measures in place. However, counties do not have to grant waivers; Los Angeles so far has not. With widespread coronavirus transmission, the county has remained in the most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening plan.

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The coalition’s letter was signed by Konjoyan, Los Angeles Archdiocese Supt. of Schools Paul Escala and Dr. Casey Nagel of the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with leaders from the Assn. of Christian Schools International of Hawaii and California, the Seventh-Day Adventist Pacific Union Conference, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the Pacific Southwest District of Lutheran Schools, Assn. of Waldorf Schools of North America and Agudath Israel of California.

The letter calls on the county to reopen transitional kindergarten through 3rd-grade classrooms immediately through waivers and to phase in reopening of upper grades on two-week intervals, when permitted under state guidelines.

Barger said the board has been approached by schools about reopening, and she is due to discuss the issue Tuesday with Supervisor Janice Hahn.

Public and private schools pressure county in reopening.
Dana Mikels, principal of Village Christian School in Sun Valley, is photographed at an outdoor classroom that would seat one student per table.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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“Hopefully we can come to some conclusion as it relates to putting something together that allows school districts to ... submit a waiver,” Barger said Monday during a press conference.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl expressed more caution in a statement Monday.

“Though some are pushing strongly for children to get back to school, many others in my district have contacted me, worried about exposure for children and their families, as well as teachers and staff,” Kuehl said.

It’s possible that L.A. County may drop into the less-restrictive “red” tier for reopening on Tuesday. After 14 days at this level, all schools could reopen with safety precautions.

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Even though educators were pushing to reopen elementary schools, they were not optimistic that Los Angeles County would accept waivers. Escala pointed out that Ventura and Santa Barbara counties have been accepting waivers for weeks and that eight schools have opened.

Public and private schools are pressuring the county to reopen
Bradley Peterson, a teacher at Village Christian School, is photographed inside his classroom at a setup for potential in-person learning. At right is Principal Dana Mikels.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The concern was echoed by Palos Verdes Unified Supt. Alex Cherniss.

“The expectation that us moving into the red would trigger them allowing schools to reopen K-12 is not a reality,” he said.

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Other backers of Palos Verdes’ motion include Los Angeles County Office of Education Vice President Douglas Boyd, Palos Verdes Unified President Suzanne Seymour, Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor John Cruikshank, Palos Verdes Estates Mayor David McGowan, Rolling Hills Mayor Jeff Pieper, Rolling Hills Estates Mayor Velveth Schmitz and Glendora Mayor Michael Allawos.


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