LOS ANGELES - Remaining middle and high school campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District began reopening Tuesday, meaning all students now have the option to be back on district campuses for the first time in more than a year.
"Reopening schools is an important part of the healing process," Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday. "We need to build on this and make sure all students are back in the classroom where they belong."
Classrooms are being cleaned and disinfected, air is filtered through the equivalent of an N-95 mask, facilities have been reconfigured to keep people at a distance and everyone has been COVID tested before returning to school -- and regularly thereafter -- with LAUSD providing its millionth COVID-19 test this week, district officials said.
"If 90% of the people on a school campus are children who have not been vaccinated, the safest thing to do is to test everyone, children and adults, before they start school and regularly thereafter," Beutner said. "Our goal is regular, weekly tests, but on a few occasions it might be 8 or even 14 days between tests instead of five or seven ... operating the most comprehensive system in the nation to keep COVID out of schools."
Still, Beutner said it's impossible to create an NBA-style bubble for the entire school district, and "as long as there are individuals with COVID in the communities we serve, some of them may bring the virus to school."
Over the last three weeks, the district reported that 105 employees and 196 students tested positive for COVID-19 before their schools opened, preventing those individuals from immediately returning to campus. Los Angeles Unified is now testing about 25,000 to 30,000 people each day.
Still, many parents have opted to keep their kids learning from home due to safety or other concerns.
A spring survey of LAUSD families showed that 49% of elementary school parents wanted their kids to return to the classroom. At the high school level, only 25% of families who participated in the survey said they'd return their students to campuses; and 35% of middle school families said they'd come back to the classroom.
But Beutner said more and more families are coming around to the idea of returning to campus. As of April 15, the district reported that fewer than half of the 8,500 students who were expected back had returned, but just one week later, more than 85% of students had returned. And an additional 1,000 families also have now indicated they'd like their child to shift from online instruction back to the classroom.
"It's going to be a gradual process like this as families see how it's working and hear from friends and neighbors about their child's experience in schools," said Beutner, who announced last week that he will step down as superintendent when his contract expires on June 30 after serving for three years in that capacity. Deputy Superintendent Megan Reilly will take over as interim superintendent at that time.
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"We have built a foundation to enable dedicated teachers, hard-working staff and an engaged board to continue on the path to recovery for children and provide them with the education and opportunity they deserve," Beutner said.
The on-campus experience for middle and high school students returning this week will be somewhat different from elementary school students. Secondary students will start the day with in-person, teacher-led engagement in an advisory period to help reconnect with each other before participating in classes online, having lunch with friends, and then working independently before participating in after-school activities like sports or music. Students won't have in-person instruction in most of their classes.
Los Angeles Unified COVID-19 testing centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. For details, call the Family Hotline at 213-443-1300. For details about receiving a free vaccination at a school, the Family Vaccination Hotline is 213-328-3958.
Now that schools are reopening, LAUSD's Grab & Go Food Centers have all closed. Food relief remains available at schools for children every weekday, for students studying in-person or online. Adults who are still in need of food assistance may visit the LAUSD website for more information about alternative sites for food assistance.
Specific dates for this week's reopening of individual schools can be found on Los Angeles Unified's website or individual school websites.