Opinion: Closing schools after Hilary was a missed opportunity for LAUSD to use what the pandemic taught us

A man speaking at a podium backed by a group of officials
Los Angeles schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho, at podium, speaks at news conference the morning after Tropical Storm Hilary moved through the Los Angeles area about the closure of all LAUSD classrooms.
(Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)
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Why weren’t students in Los Angeles sent home last week with school work for the day after Hilary passed through Southern California? Or better yet, why weren’t the schools ready ahead of time with plans for a day of online instruction? These are fair questions that the school community should be asking.

We knew for a week that Los Angeles was in the path of a serious tropical storm. Organizations across the region planned accordingly. Public safety officials activated emergency operations centers and TV, radio and newspapers provided us with constant updates about the weather forecast and how to prepare for the storm. Even the Dodgers moved their game scheduled for Sunday up to Saturday as part of a double-header. Why not our schools?

As LAUSD and other school districts and day cares close following Tropical Storm Hilary, families scramble for child care and districts review impact.

Aug. 21, 2023

Of course, the first order of business in any crisis is to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the community. But as we learned during the pandemic, that doesn’t mean that students can’t continue to learn.


The Los Angeles Unified School District made a big investment during COVID to be certain every student had a computer and internet access at home. Teachers and school staff were provided with extensive training and through their hard work, they set the standard for other school districts to follow.

Los Angeles students were the only ones in the nation to make progress in fourth-grade literacy and math, and in eighth-grade math during the pandemic, according to the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress reports. Students could have benefited from this investment to stay connected with their school community and continue learning on Monday, despite the problems created by the weekend’s weather.

While online learning is not a substitute for being in the classroom, it’s certainly better than a day without school. Seems like in this case we missed an opportunity to learn from it and do better for public school kids and their families.

Climate change will bring with it more frequent extreme weather events such as the one we just experienced. It also presents the need for state and local education leaders to think differently about how schools adapt to the new environment. As L.A. schools did during the pandemic, we need to rethink how things are usually done.

California has a school funding system based on the daily attendance of students at school buildings. Has this outlived its usefulness? Schools shouldn’t be faced with a decision that pits safety against funding.

LAUSD built the capacity to provide computers and internet access to all of its students, but the funding and oversight of this necessary technology is a state issue that goes far beyond the four walls of a school or boundaries of one district. What is required at the state level to help L.A. Unified maintain this vital connection and to get it set up in districts that don’t have it yet?


L.A. Unified’s Primary Promise program succeeds by providing students with individual attention in the crucial K-3 years.

June 14, 2023

Working families rely on schools to keep their children safe and cared for while they go to work. It presents real hardship for them any time school classrooms are closed. The decision to close school buildings is not simple or easy. We’ve done it — and I had to order it as superintendent — many times for fires, floods, public safety issues and even the once-in-100-years pandemic.

Every time we close schools, we must balance the need to keep all in the school community safe while helping students continue to learn. The goal is to do both of these things. My hope is that we can apply what we learned during the pandemic and not miss the next opportunity to plan ahead and do better. The kids are counting on us.

Austin Beutner was superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District from May 2018 through June 2021.