Families demand wider school reopening as LAUSD moves toward limited in-person instruction
Los Angeles schools will resume some services next week for a small percentage of students with special needs, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday. However, the measures fall far short of demands from parents who rallied on the Westside to push for a broader reopening of schools.
The state’s largest school system had been among the last in the region to maintain a hard shutdown that halted all in-person services in early December. The district’s move will partially address a growing outcry among many families to reopen campuses.
“In anticipation of a more complete reopening of schools in April, we will begin next week to offer child care, one-on-one and small group instruction; services for students with special needs; and a return to athletic conditioning,” Beutner said in remarks broadcast Monday morning. “Your school principal will have more information on this during the course of the week.”
For about two months in the fall, L.A. Unified offered many of these services but shut them down when a COVID-19 surge took hold in Southern California, straining the medical system. At the time, in-person services and instruction were reaching fewer than 1% of the 465,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. To provide those services, the district relied on staff who volunteered to work outside of the normal school day.
Beutner offered no details on whether the restored services would work the same way or would be able to reach more students.
In the last few weeks, coronavirus infection rates have dropped sharply but unevenly, with much higher rates in many of the low-income communities served by L.A. Unified. Beutner cited the ongoing risk as part of the reason the reopening of the massive school system had to be approached with more caution than in other places, such as suburban La Cañada Flintridge.
Nonetheless, because of declining infection rates countywide, all elementary campuses are eligible to open in Los Angeles County. Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for elementary schools to reopen — citing new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but has not mandated reopening.
More than 200 protesters affiliated with at least 20 L.A. Unified schools gathered Monday morning at the Federal Building in West Los Angeles, calling for schools to reopen. There also were attendees calling for a swifter reopening of campuses in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
“I have two teenagers who are suffering so badly, and I have one little one that is crying every single day because this system is not working,” said Ora Yashar, whose children are enrolled in Warner Avenue Elementary in Westwood and Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades. “Enough is enough.”
Yashar noted that some other school systems and many private schools have resumed in-person classes.
Cynthia Rojas’ 5-year-old daughter tried kindergarten online at Coeur d'Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice.
“My daughter did Zoom for a week,” Rojas said. “And after 20 minutes every day, she’d start crying.”
Rojas moved her into a private kindergarten class created when their former preschool expanded a grade. Her daughter, she added, is enthusiastic about wearing a mask if it means being able to go to school.
But her older son, she said, remains at Coeur d'Alene and isn’t thriving despite having an excellent teacher.
“They can say they care about kids,” Rojas said of the teachers union and district leadership, “but there’s no sense of urgency to open our schools.”
Organizers framed the rally as a “Zoom blackout” — essentially, a strike from attending school online that was to begin Monday and continue “for as many days as it takes,” a flier stated.
That could be a while.
In his remarks, Beutner mentioned a reopening date “no later than April 9,” while stating that vaccines for school staff are a critical part of the equation. Inadequate access to vaccine could push that date back, he has said.
“My goal of April 9 is still possible, but we need to start today, not tomorrow, not next week,” he said in the briefing, referring to broad and immediate access to vaccine for employees who would be needed to reopen campuses.
School staff younger than 65 don’t become eligible for vaccination until March 1, and supplies are likely to be limited for weeks. The two vaccines on the market require five to six weeks to achieve maximum immunity after the first of two shots.
Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the district’s teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, say no staff should return to work until they are fully immunized.
Groups allied with the union staged a demonstration Saturday, with parents and students urging that campuses be kept closed until it is safer and vaccines are available for staff.
The union and district are in negotiations over what a return to campus would look like. Union members are tentatively scheduled to vote next week on whether they would oppose a return-to-work order.
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