Los Angeles Schools Will Not Reopen for In-Person Learning This Fall

Picture of an empty classroom taken at the university of Mont-Saint-Aignan, near Rouen, northwestern France, on October 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Los Angeles schools will not reopen for in-person learning this fall, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Monday, citing “science” as its guide in the decision.

While schools will resume in the fall in the form of online learning, children in Los Angeles will not kick off the 2020-2021 academic year on a physical campus.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to spread in the Los Angeles area and the virus is going to impact how we start the new school year,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement.

“While the new school year will begin on August 18th as scheduled, it will not begin with students at school facilities,” Beutner continued. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise.”

“The news about the spread of the virus continues to be of great concern. Last week was the worst yet in the Los Angeles area. The rate of those who tested positive for the virus is approaching 10 percent, well above the level of 5 percent the World Health Organization guidelines say is appropriate for communities to reopen,” he explained.

While he said that information has been provided to prevent the spread of the virus — precautions like washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, wearing masks, and readjusting school schedules — Beutner said it “will not be enough.”

“Not when a meaningful number of silent spreaders of the virus might be on campus. Families and staff share this concern as a significant number of them have reservations about returning to school facilities unless more is done to mitigate the risk,” he said.

“The answer? Test students and staff for the virus at schools on a regular basis,” he continued, noting that it will cost large sums of money to do so.

He said:

Reopening schools will significantly increase the interaction between children and adults from different families. A 10-year-old student might have a 30-year-old teacher, a 50-year-old bus driver or live with a 70-year-old grandmother. All need to be protected. There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish.

Testing and contact tracing will cost money. Preliminary estimates are an effort in Los Angeles Unified would cost about $300 per student over the course of a year to test students and staff every week, as well as family members of those who test positive for the virus. $300 is a small fraction of the $17,000 Californians invest each year to educate a student. And the dollars pale in comparison to the importance schools will play in reopening what was the 5th largest economy in the world just a few months ago.

The superintendent suggested the federal government could help by providing the funding schools need “to make it safe and appropriate for students and staff to return,” attaching a $15 billion estimate on providing testing at all schools. That, he said, “will help make it safer for all 50 million students and their teachers in public schools across the country.”

“But this is about something that can’t be measured in dollars and cents; it’s about creating opportunity for children,” he added.

Beutner added that students can still expect a regular schedule with “daily, live interaction,” “standards-based instruction,” and “regular assessment of student progress”:

Additional information on the district’s plan will be forthcoming.

“I’m 60 years old with a pre-existing condition, have a wife and four children and considered in a high-risk category according to some guidelines,” he said. “My promise to all in the school community is to be right there with you when we return to school.”

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