LAUSD superintendent outlines plans and remaining questions for school reopening

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner spoke in detail with Eyewitness Newsmakers about plans to reopen district schools and what issues still remain to be resolved.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The nation's second-largest school district will finish the school year with remote learning for the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are many mitigating factors if the fall semester starts Aug. 18 as scheduled.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner was this week's Eyewitness Newsmakers guest to talk about school plans and the district's massive food relief effort.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has offered the possibility of starting fall classes early - late July or early August. Beutner is in a school working group, including UCLA and consulting with County Public Health.

"As soon as the scientists tell us how, we'll figure out the when," Beutner said.

He said the decision would need to include COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Beutner could not say who would pay for that and whether it would include all 700,000 students and 75,000 district personnel. He did say that when schools closed March 13, there were no cases of the novel coronavirus and he wants to keep it that way.

"What we've shared with our school community is we need to be careful that the efforts we made to close schools back on March 13, school facilities, that we don't suffer a setback," Beutner said. "We closed with no COVID diagnosis in any school community and we don't want a hasty return to reverse the success of that effort."

School is scheduled to start Aug. 18. That remains the schedule. LAUSD has not yet shared plans to indicate whether facilities will be reopened by then. Beutner is looking for further guidance from health authorities before they can make that decision.

The superintendent said, "If the science tells us a certain set of things, here's what we can do. If the science tells us a different set of things here's what we'll do - and those options include small class size, staggered schedules. They include hybrid, where it might be a day on, a day off for certain groups of students. And it's different for each student. And it's different for each school."

When schools closed, the district had to pivot to online learning with a percentage of students with no computers or internet access.

Beutner said, "This is akin to going to the moon. If we'd had our druthers, we'd take five years, we'd make the investment ahead of time. We'd train everybody. We'd test it and do all those things that we're doing in a matter of weeks, not years, but it's necessary. Because every student needs to be connected to their school community and deserves a chance to learn."

Is distance learning successful? It's a work in progress for the superintendent.

"I think we're making great progress," he said. "We started from not a position of strength. You and I have had the conversation about the lack of adequacy in school funding. And we see symptoms in a math class which is too big, a school library without a librarian, or the lack of investment in digital tools and technologies. All of those things are still with us. We chose to make sure every student had the opportunity to learn."

Beutner said online learning has connected almost all high school and middle school students. Elementary is at about 75%, and it will be complete in a week to 10 days.

Educators moved from classroom to home learning. The district just completed the first round of training. Monday starts the second phase. About half of teachers have signed up for another optional 30 hours.

Whether fall classes start early, the district is making a bold move for summer school.

Beutner said, "We shared with the school community we'll finish the school year in this online fashion.We'll provide summer school, for the first time ever for every LAUSD student."

Students will be offered the opportunity to participate in summer school online.

LAUSD is spending $2 million a day at 63 schools for the nation's largest food relief effort. More than 80% of the district's students live in poverty and the district sees it as a safety net. Federal law says reimbursed food assistance is only for students and their families.

Beutner said, "Any child or adult in need of food in this emergency, we're going to help because we can help, and we should help. It's the right thing to do."

He added, "Before we started, before our first day of service, we said, what will we do? Will we ask questions? Will we turn away a hungry adult? No we won't. So we're going to do what we think is the right thing. It's necessary to support a community in need. And we're going to keep doing it as long as we need to."

To help meet the goal, LAUSD has set up a charity supporting 15 million meals so far and raised almost $8 million.

To contribute go online to contribute here or text NEED to 76278

Beutner said at $4 a meal, $20 is a week's worth of lunch.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.