School in California: Los Angeles Distance Learning Mandate Plus LAUSD & 12 More School Districts' Latest Plans for 2020-21 School Year

Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office 2018
Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office 2018

Will we be sending our kids back to school in the fall? If so how? And if not, how? The many school districts of Los Angeles have been sharing their plans with anxious families in a series of announcements, proposals, and town hall Zoom calls.

One thing seems certain: most school districts are sticking with their previously announced 2020-21 school calendars. That, however, is where the certainty ends.

Principals, teachers, superintendents, school board members, and Governor Newsom have been wrestling with the question of returning to school since before school finished. In recent days, LAUSD and 12 other local school districts in Los Angeles and Orange County have released or updated a plan for returning to school next month. On July 17, the governer of California weighed in emphatically, establishing strict guidelines for a county's schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Read on for state and county guidelines as well as local school district plans for beginning the 2020-21 school year.

Governor Gavin Newsom's Pandemic Plan for Schools

On July 17, 2020, Governor Newsom announced a 12 point structure to manage return to in-person school throughout the state. Highlights from that plan include:

1. Safe, in-person school shall be determined by local health data. Schools may only move forward with in-person learning when the county they are operating in has been off the state COVID monitoring list for 14 days.

2. Mask requirement is in place for all schools in the state. Students and staff in 3rd grade and above are required to wear masks while at school. Students in younger grades are strongly encouraged to use masks, or clear face shields (which may be easier for smaller children to use). More than two months' worth of PPE has already been purchased for every school in the state, and the governor announced available funds to purchase more.

3. Physical distancing is required for in-person school; it is incumbant upon staff to maintain and enforce a minimum 6-foot distance between everyone.

4. In-person school will have specific requirements for temperature checks, extra sanitation efforts, and quarantine protocols.

5. Testing and contact tracing must be in place. The state has established specific guidelines and is making its contact tracing resources and networks available to schools.


6. The state has established protocols for remaining open—e.g. isolating a cohort with a COVID case, how many affected cohorts mandate a school's closure (5% of school), how many closed schools close a district (25%), etc...

The governer reiterated that he believes profoundly in learning in-person, but also in the safety of everyone working or studying at our schools. He reminded Californians that the things we have the power to do to get kids back to school are wear a mask, physically distance, wash hands, and minimize social mixing.

Local School District Plans in Los Angeles and Orange County

Once a county has passed California's requirements for opening schools, the next decisions are in the hands of the local school district, with guidance from the county office of education.

Note that all schools within Los Angeles County take their guidance from the Los Angeles County Office of Education report, which lays out broad guidelines for how to approach face-to-face, hybrid, and distance learning. Schools in Orange County are guided by the OC Department of Education Orange County Together report. The Orange County Board of Education recently passed a high profile remote vote recommending a full return to school with no masks or social distancing for students; that recommendation, however, is overruled by the new state guidelines (and had already been overruled by several local districts).

The plans below are what have been released so far by LAUSD, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica/Malibu, El Segundo, Anaheim, Burbank, Pasadena, Glendale, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano. Note that no in-person plans can be implemented until the county achieves 14 days off the state's COVID-19 watch list. 

On-campus plans all include wearing masks (we know some cute ones), using plenty of hand sanitizer, and reducing class sizes to keep everyone 6 feet away from other people. For more details, check out the local plans:

Los Angeles Unified School District

LAUSD schools are scheduled to return on August 18, 2020.

The second largest school district in the country (or, as superintendent Buetner calls it, "the biggest petri dish in California") has announced a plan for August that is entirely online. Buetner is committing to daily, live engagement, with attendance taken, on a regular schedule. He is also committing to making sure that all students have devices and access to the internet, and that all teachers get extra training and planning time to prepare for whatever model is adopted. His plan so far is laid out here, with more details to be released weekly.

Superintendent Buetner has pointed out that safely implementing any in-person school will require not only smaller class sizes but also extensive testing and contract tracing, as other countries have successfully done. This is not something LAUSD is capable of doing on its own, and so Buetner is requesting help from state and federal authorities before anything other than distance learning will be possible.

To stay up to date, the district recommends signing up for LAUSD news alerts.

Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Proposal (New!)

Santa Monica and Malibu schools return on August 24, 2020.

Selecting the third of the three options presented earlier this month, on July 16th SMMUSD's school board unanimously approved a proposal to return to school remotely in August. Although a large portion of the community and the superintendent had initially expressed support for a hybrid model, the rise in LA's COVID cases was cited as a clear obstacle to this plan. Administrators, board members, and a majority of commenting parents and teachers agreed at the public meeting that science needs to guide a return to in-person learning, and that currently a distance learning plan is required for the well being of all students.

SMMUSD administration, teachers, and classified staff plan to work to make distance learning as positive and engaging as possible. Extra days of professional development for teachers have been added to the beginning of the school year to accommodate the necessary training; pending approval of the school board on August 13, the first day of instruction is to be moved from August 20 to August 24.

The district is keeping a webpage for all updates to the plan for the 2020-21 school year.

Anaheim Elementary and High School District

Anaheim schools return on August 13, 2020.

The Anaheim School District functions as two entities: one controlling elementary schools and the other secondary schools, serving approximately 30,000 students all together. Neither body is planning to follow the mask-free, in-person recommendations of the OC board.

The Anaheim Elementary School District has a proposal before the Anaheim Board of Education recommending to begin the 2020-21 school year with Distance Learning until further notice. The proposal assures a comprehensive plan including daily live instruction, weekly engagement record-keeping, verifying daily participation, and tracking assignments. The vote on this plan takes place July 16. According to sources at CNN, the Anaheim Union High School District is also planning on re-opening schools with a full distance-learning model.

Burbank Unified School District Plan

Burbank schools return on August 17, 2020.

BUSD is currently planning to offer two options: a hybrid model (in-school and online learning) and a distance learning (online only) model.

In the hybrid model, students will attend school in person four days a week for half of the day (either morning or afternoon). When students are not in school, they will do online learning prepared by their teachers.  

The 100% distance learning option will be prepared by the teacher for elementary school students. Secondary students choosing distance learning will work from home through the Independent Learning Academy.

Note that the district website has a detailed Q&A that covers many in-depth details of how the plan will work in practice.

Pasadena School District Proposal

Pasadena schools return on August 17, 2020.

PUSD has pivoted this week, turning back from its previous presentation for the board of education recommending the "Blended Model." As of July 14, the superintendent has changed his recommendation and is now asking the board to approve a plan for Pasadena Unified to open in a 100% distance learning model on August 17.  

The superintendent states that the plans his team have been working on are designed to flow easily between hybrid and distance learning, and he promises more details in the coming weeks. He also assures famliies that the goal is to return to in-person learning as soon as public health conditions allow and adequate resources are allocated by both the state and federal governments for a safe return to schools.

Glendale School District Task Force Report

Glendale schools resume on August 19, 2020.

Like other districts, Glendale has this week scrapped its earlier proposal in favor of a distance learning plan. The Glendale school board is ahead of some others in that it has already voted on and approved this recommendation, confirming that the community is going forward with remote learning in August.

Glendale is also ahead of some other districts in already presenting its plan for how to help families with elementary school-aged children in need of daytime supervision: The district will offer on-campus childcare during the regular school day for elementary-age students, prioritizing students currently enrolled in state-subsidized childcare programs, foster/homeless youth, and children of employees and other essential workers. Students reporting to campus for childcare will be grouped into small, supervised technology learning pods to ensure proper physical distancing. Whether students report to campus or stay at home, they will allAll students, at home or in childcare, will participate in the same online curriculum. The district will also distribute Chromebooks and internet hotspots to all students who need them.

Comments may still be sent to

Beverly Hills Unified School District Plan

Beverly Hill schools return on August 17, 2020.

BHUSD has not yet made a formal decision. A few weeks ago, the community was offered two options: applying to The ILC (Independent Learning Center), which is Beverly Hills' alternative school, or Hybrid Learning. Since then, the superintendent has announced that the number of applicants to the ILC being smaller than anticipated, the district needs to reconfigure its hybrid plan to fit three neighborhood cohorts into the rotation instead of two. Making the numbers work this way while still fitting in the full 180 days of instruction is a puzzle not yet completed.

In the meantime, the application deadline for the ILC program has been pushed back; initially announced as July 15, there is currently not a deadline named, and interested families are still encouraged to apply. Participation requires a one semester commitment.

These options are still contingent upon direction from the Department of Public Health. Beverly Hills families can expect more information shortly.

El Segundo Unified School District

El Segundo returns to school August 26, 2020.

With August 26th as ESUSD’s first day of school, the superintendent feels it is premature to make a change from the district’s intent to offer both a Hybrid Learning and a Full Distance Learning option this fall. The potential plans, however, are presented along with the proviso that LACDPH may curtail the district’s ability to offer a hybrid option when school begins, until COVID-19 cases stabilize. As of late July, El Segundo administrators and teachers are actively planning for both scenarios: Hybrid and Distance Learning.

Torrance School District Fall Plan

Torrance returns to school August 26, 2020.

Parents in the Torrance district are being allowed to choose from two options: either Blended Learning or Distance Learning. In the Blended plan, schools will be divided into two cohorts, each of which will be on campus for only part of the week. Siblings will be guaranteed the same cohort.

In the Distance Learning option, students do not physically return to school; they learn from home five days a week.

The school board approved the plan offering both of these options on July 13, 2020.

Redondo Beach School District Options

Redondo schools return August 19, 2020.

Although the RBUSD plan is not yet solidified, the superintendent has confirmed that full time, 5-day-per-week, in-person school will not be an option.

This leaves two options very similar to what other districts are proposing: a hybrid model of in-school learning and distance learning, or full-time distance learning. The decision between these two options is currently in the hands of the Reopening Think Tank. Wondering who these thinking folks are? Here's a list of members of the RBUSD Think Tank. To make sure your voice is heard, be sure to fill out the Family Readiness Survey that the district emailed in June.

The school board meets on July 21 to vote on a final plan; once the decision is finalized, the district will hold a parent town hall to clarify implementation.

Newport Mesa Unified School District Proposal

Newport Beach schools go back to school on August 24, 2020

NMUSD has approved a 100% home learning option for the new school year.

Other options are still being explored, so the final plan for fall may offer more options than just home learning, but the district wanted to be sure that those who prefer to (or need to) remain at home are able to do so. As NMUSD explores additional options, the goal is to have a three-level plan in place that is ready for all scenarios: in-person, hybrid, and distance learning options.

Santa Ana Unified School District Draft Proposal

Santa Ana's schools go back August 10, 2020.

Although the school board had last week approved the SAUSD draft plan for August created by the Innovation Design Team, incoporating distance learning and in-person learning, this week the board approved a change of course to 100% distance learning. This decision was made out of concern for the safety and well being of the entire school community. The hope remains that "at some point" students can return to campus. Meanwhile, educators are working to develop a rigorous distance learning plan for students to continue their education at home -- one which is fluid enough to transition smoothly between models as situations evolve.

More details are promised in the weeks between now and the start of school.

Capistrano Unified School District Plan

San Juan Capistrano returns to school August 18, 2020.

Capistrano Unified has worked hard to come up with a plan for fall which is not an emergency plan, and which does not resemble the hastily assembled remote learning of the spring. The plan includes three options for grades K-5 and two options for grades 6-12.

Elementary school aged kids will choose between on-campus learning, online learning with teacher support, or a 50/50 split between the two.

Secondary school kids will choose between 50/50 on-campus and online, or 100% online. In the hybrid version, students will spend 2.5 days per week on campus.

Watch this space for more school info as it's released; this post is updated periodically.

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