Youngest students return to some LAUSD campuses, but many staying home

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- For the first time in more than a year, some Los Angeles Unified schools reopened for in-person classes Tuesday, starting with the youngest students, who will be followed over the coming days by other grades.

Safety standards and mandatory COVID-19 testing of students were in place, but many parents still opted to keep their kids learning from home.

"It's a good day for us,'' Superintendent Austin Beutner said during a visit to Heliotrope Elementary School in Maywood. "It's a happy day. We're here to celebrate the students back in schools. But this is the first step in what will be a long path to recovery.''

Coronavirus countermeasures at schools include free testing for students and staff on site each week at all 61 elementary schools and 11 early education enters set to open in stages this week.

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"It's our solemn and serious commitment to make sure we do this in the safest way possible,'' the superintendent said.

Remaining elementary schools and early education centers will open next week; and middle and high schools will open the week of April 26.

While the reopening schools bustled with young students, many kids were still learning at home, with their parents opting to stick with remote learning for now.

As of last week, a survey of LAUSD families showed that 49% of elementary school parents wanted their kids to return to the classroom. At the high school level, only 25% of families who participated in the survey said they'll return their students to campuses; and 35% of middle school families said they'll come back to the classroom.

All students who return to campus for in-person learning must receive a test the week prior to their school opening. For students starting school this week, Beutner said Monday morning that it's not too late to be tested.

Reopenings will be rolled out at each school over several days, starting with the youngest students. Kindergarten and first-grade students returned to school Tuesday. Grades two and three will start Wednesday, while fourth- and fifth-graders will return Thursday.

Most of California's 6.1 million students in 1,037 public school districts have been learning from home since last March because of the pandemic. Long Beach, Glendale, Downey and Manhattan Beach unified school districts are among those ahead of LAUSD, already having welcomed back some students, with most schools operating on a limited schedule and prioritizing the youngest students.

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LAUSD's reopened elementary schools will offer three hours of focused work in literacy, math, science and social studies, as well as recess and lunch, in addition to homework help and enrichment activities such as painting, dance and yoga.

Beutner this week acknowledged the hesitancy among some parents to send their kids back to campus.

"Many families who have chosen to remain in online instruction tell us their primary concern is that their child might go to school and, however remote the possibility, bring the virus home to a family member in a multi-generational household,'' Beutner said Monday.

To help expedite the return to in-person instruction, the district will be operating 25 school-based vaccination centers to serve families of LAUSD students. It also has been operating a large-scale vaccination site for education workers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. He noted Tuesday that those sites have been administering only the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and would not be impacted by a pause that was announced Tuesday on use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In the coming school year, Beutner noted, the district plans to spend more than $21,000 per student, which is going to require federal and local support.

"It's important to note it will take a collective effort including businesses, philanthropic and community organizations and all levels of government to help students recover and continue their progress,'' he said Monday.

Part of what may help students recover is investing in the extension of the 2021-22 school year by two weeks to make up lost time. Beutner said the Board of Education this week will hear a recommendation to add one week in August and one week in January to the calendar, with each of the weeks split "between time for teachers and school staff to plan and participate in additional training and time for students to process the trauma and anxiety they've experienced the past year and work on learning fundamentals.'' The board meeting, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was rescheduled for Wednesday.

In the meantime, Los Angeles Unified COVID-19 testing centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. For details, call the Family Hotline at 213-443-1300.

For details about receiving a free vaccination at a school, call the Family Vaccination Hotline is 213-328-3958.

LAUSD's food distribution programs will continue, with details available at lastudentsmostinneed.org. However, Grab & Go Food Centers will begin to close. Last Friday was the final day for 22 of the school-based food centers, and the remaining 41 sites will close this Friday.

Specific dates for the reopening of individual schools can be found on Los Angeles Unified's website or individual school websites.

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