LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles County elementary schools are cleared to reopen after nearly a year of pandemic shutdowns, thanks to plunging coronavirus caseloads. County health officials are expected to make an official announcement regarding reopenings Tuesday afternoon.
Under state guidelines, in-person instruction has been off-limits to most of the county’s 1.5 million students since March with few exceptions. With the green light to reopen as early as this week, each of the county’s school districts will individually decide how to proceed.
Those that do welcome students back will need to meet a series of safety protocols — such as limited class sizes and provision of protective equipment – – while also continuing to offer a distance learning option to accommodate families wary of sending their children to in-person classes.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said 12 school districts in the county have already had their safety plans approved, and two other districts have plans that are under review. A total of 173 private or charter schools have also had plans approved, with seven other private/charters awaiting approval of their plans.
A full list of the approved districts and schools was not immediately released, but Ferrer said it would eventually be posted on the health department website. She noted that LAUSD is among the 12 districts that have had safety plans approved.
However, the county’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has yet to reach a deal with the teachers union, which has called for teachers to be vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction. School districts across the county are negotiating with teachers for reopening plans. Safety plans must be submitted to the county for certification.
On Monday, the Santa Monica-Unified School District announced a tentative agreement with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association. According to the yet-to-be-ratified agreement, vaccines must be available to teachers and campus staff for 15 days prior to students returning. As already approved by the board of education in December, Santa Monica and Malibu elementary students will return to campuses once Los Angeles County records COVID-19 infection levels of 25 per 100,000 or fewer for five consecutive days, and secondary students will return at a threshold of seven per 100,000.
Only three school districts in the county are already partially opened for hybrid learning with safety plans certified by the county.
In Calabasas and Agoura Hills, the Las Virgenes Unified School District has opened its elementary schools for hybrid instruction since the fall.
Elementary schools in Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes are already opened for hybrid learning, according to the county office of education.
The state permits elementary schools to reopen as soon as counties reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000, a milestone Los Angeles health officials said Monday they expected to reach Tuesday. All schools wishing to reopen must submit plans to the county health department and the California Department of Public Health certifying that they have implemented a full range of safety measures to permit a safe reopening.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn sent out a celebratory tweet regarding the announcement.
“L.A. County has officially reached the state’s threshold for reopening elementary schools,” she wrote Monday. “Starting tomorrow (Tuesday), schools can reopen for grades K-6 if they have a waiver or submitted their COVID Safety Plans in advance. …
“This is what we have been working towards,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who has worn your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in L.A. County are dropping. Now we can continue the work getting our kids and teachers safely back in classrooms where they belong.”
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was expected to release additional information about Los Angeles County’s school reopening threshold at a 2 p.m. news briefing Tuesday.
Her department on Monday issued the following statement: “This is an encouraging milestone and we look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to ensure safety for students, teachers and staff returning to schools.”
For Los Angeles Unified schools, the district announced plans to open a campus vaccination site, a move seen as a major step to help quickly vaccinate teachers. The LAUSD’s first school-based COVID-19 vaccination center would open Wednesday at Roybal Learning Center, at 1200 Colton St. near downtown Los Angeles. Moderna vaccines will be administered by LAUSD school nurses and other licensed health care professionals.
Still, it’s unclear if the teachers union and district officials are ready for in-person instruction to resume. Some of the highest infection rates in the county continued to be seen in neighborhoods served by LAUSD schools.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said earlier Monday, regarding when schools would reopen, that district has done its part in comprehensively ensuring that every campus is safe, including:
- Retrofitting 80 million square feet of school buildings to make sure air is properly filtered.
- Cleaning and sanitizing every room in every school.
- Providing masks and personal protective equipment.
- Reconfiguring classrooms and facilities to maintain social distance.
- Creating a school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.
Beutner and other officials and union leaders from several of the state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, previously balked at the governor’s reopening plan for schools, claiming it falls short on funding for urban school districts. The governor has opposed the United Teachers Los Angeles’ call for campuses to remain closed until teachers and staff can be vaccinated.
California health officials also have recently released an interactive map that allows Angelenos and others across the state to track the status of campus reopenings. The Safe Schools Reopening Map provides data on the status of reopening and safety planning for school districts, charter schools and private schools in Los Angeles and across California. Officials said they hope it will help communities and school staff evaluate their own reopening plans.
Schools will update their information every two weeks on the map, and the California Department of Public Health will add data on reported outbreaks in each school district and information about COVID-19 testing.
“As COVID-19 conditions continue to improve and vaccinations ramp up throughout the state, this map will provide local communities with accessible, up-to-date information on how districts in their communities and beyond are adapting to the pandemic, including safety planning and implementation,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This map is one of many resources we have made available that will help school staff and families make informed decisions as we safely reopen our schools.”
The map was created through a partnership involving the state, county office of education and the California Collaborative in Education Excellence. It can be accessed here.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.