Los Angeles School Year Begins in August, But Not On Campus for LAUSD

"While the new school year will begin in August, it will not start with students at school facilities," announced Superintendent Austin Buetner today, allowing the families of 735,00 students to stop speculating. "There is a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petrie dish."

Citing the recommendations of the WHO and health experts from around the globe, the rising rates of COVID cases in the Los Angeles area, and funding challenges that have yet to be addressed, Buetner said that to avoid compromising the health and safety of the school community and all those connected to it, on-campus learning will simply not be possible in August. San Diego Unified School District made a similar announcement today; whether other regional school districts follow suit remains to be seen.

Buetner's broad strokes for how LAUSD plans to make off-campus learning successful, and for how students could return to LAUSD campuses in the near future, follow.

Why Los Angeles Schools Will Not Return to Campus in August

The Los Angeles superintendent pulled no punches in his weekly address this morning; he referred to federal officials' statements in recent days (though he did not mention Betsy Devos by name) who "like a Nike ad told educators, 'Just Do It.'"

But actually returning to schools is not so simple, he pointed out. Citing epidemiologists at Harvard and Stanford, as well as the success of four countries that have brought students back to school—South Korea, Denmark, Vietnam, and Germany—he said the key elements needed are contact tracing, testing, and new health practices at schools. The cost of conducting weekly testing of students as well as testing familiy members of any student who tests positive for COVID-19 would be about $300 per student for the school year, he said. If the federal government wants to help schools return to campus, which Buetner says everyone agrees is the best learning environment, then providing that funding could make it possible.

LAUSD has been feeding whole families in the LA area daily throughout this crisis, the superintendent pointed out, because the community is experiencing unprecedented need—and he scolded the state, county, and city resources that have not stepped up to fund these efforts. The added 200+ million dollars required for effective testing and tracing (at $300/student) is simply not feasible for the district without extra funding.

Until thorough testing, contact tracing, and new cleaning protocols can be implemented, a return to school will not be possible. "The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise," Buetner said. He cited rising rates of COVID spread in recent weeks: currently the rate of positive testing in the Los Angeles area is at 10%, while the World Health Organization recommends a rate of 5% before communities can safely reopen.

"Science has been our guide and will continue to be."

What Will LAUSD Remote Learning Look Like in August?

LAUSD schools will be back in session on August 18, 2020, as planned, but remotely.

Buetner acknowledged that this year's Summer Slide will be the worst in memory, after five months out of physical school. Educators are facing an unprecedented challenge, and the plan for how to best address it five weeks from now is still being fleshed out.

Educators are working over the summer to create plans that work both for school online and in person (as everyone hopes to achieve again as soon as health concerns allow). What has been established so far is that the online plan that is implemented in August will include the following:

  • A regular daily schedule
  • Daily live engagement
  • Standards-based instruction
  • Attendance taken
  • Regular assessments
  • One-on-one tutoring opportunities
  • All required technology provided

Training and planning time for teachers is worked into the plan, to help teachers continually improve the model. Regular updates and community town halls are promised for families, as well as focus groups to keep track of the program's success.

Where possible, one-on-one tutoring will be offered after school and on Saturday mornings to help students make up for the lost time of this unprecedented Summer Slide.

Buetner promises more details released each week, with final plans available for everyone to see by first week in August.

LAUSD has made a point to say that it is working side by side with its labor partners and its community members to achieve the best possible learning opportunities for the district's children without putting lives at risk.

"Things can change quite quickly," he acknowledged, "We will continue to do the best we can, balancing the learning needs of students, impacts on families, and the health and safety of the community."

Watch the superintendent's weekly address for more info, and watch this space for updates!

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