As restrictions continue to ease across the southland, a glimmer of hope arises for Los Angeles students and parents. LA Schools have been closed to in-person learning for a year now, but that will soon change next month, pending the approval of a new deal. The tentative deal to reopen schools struck by the Teachers’ union and LA Schools allows preschool and elementary school students to return in mid-April. Meanwhile, secondary school students can return at the end of April in a hybrid format. But just what are the parameters for the return, and when will the school year conclude? The answers to that, and more:
Subject to Approval
Tentative is the operative word in the announcement, as the agreement is currently subject to approval by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education and ratification by the UTLA membership (United Teachers Los Angeles). In addition, the agreement depends on three other important factors:
- Teacher vaccinations against COVID-19
- Extensive health measures
- The county’s impending exit from California’s most restrictive tier of health regulations
Across the state, about 200,000 teachers and school staff have been vaccinated thus far. That number represents more than one-third of the 550,000 K-12 sector employees, according to Daniel Thigpen, deputy superintendent of communications for the California Department of Education.
The return to school will not feel completely normal, however. Students and teachers must wear masks and practice physical distancing. Plus, most elementary school students will engage in a hybrid half-day online/in-person model. The only students who will be on campus for full days are preschoolers, according to the proposed plan. Additionally, the plan dictates that schooling will continue through June 30th of this year. There are no current, official proposals for an approach to schooling in LA past that date.
Not Soon Enough for Some Parents
Days after the Governor’s announcement of the return to schools, parents showed up at two rallies in Los Angeles to express their concerns. Their primary complaint? The plan is not adequate, and their outcry stems largely from being excluded from negotiations between UTLA and the LAUSD. Their complaints are vociferous, as illustrated by the bold words of Ross Novie (founder of the group L.A. School Uprising), “Look, this deal that they just came up with — which is too little, far too late — they should have been ready with a plan as soon as cases dropped, which they knew it would. They should have been ready to enact the plan — not to start asking people ‘Who’s going back?’” (ABC 7)
Younger students returning to school is viewed as a big plus, even if it’s only part-time for now. However, parents are significantly more concerned about the logistics of the plan for high school students. High school students are expected to be present, only to log on to online classes. The plan appears to be head-scratching, to say the least.
Rapid Testing Made Available
California and Governor Gavin Newsom have clearly thrown their full support behind this back-to-school effort. The state is offering rapid COVID-19 tests to students and educators in an effort to support school reopening efforts. Approximately 5 million BinaxNOW antigen tests are available for purchase. The tests provide results within 15 minutes, at $5 per test. Of note, the rapid tests are not mandatory for reopening — they are simply an additional resource schools can utilize. School officials can use CARES Act funds, money allocated to them in the state budget, or their own discretionary resources to pay for the tests.
“Even though the vaccine is being rolled out…and more and more educators are being prioritized for it until we have full fascinated communities, this is another tool that we believe can be helpful to ensuring that we’re mitigating any spread.”-Daniel Thigpen, Deputy Superintendent of Communications (quote courtesy of LA Times)
For now, the tentative deal to reopen schools is still awaiting a vote by the teachers’ union and formal approval by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education. Many parents are hopeful that the return to full-day, in-person learning is possible in the fall of this year, but only time will tell.