LA County hits threshold to let elementary schools reopen

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As COVID-19 cases decline and hospitals improve their available capacity, Los Angeles County has hit a state milestone for allowing elementary schools to reopen, county Supervisor Janice Hahn said Monday.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean schools will immediately open their doors, after shifting to remote learning for nearly a year.

Some districts, such as Los Angeles Unified, have said they don't think they should reopen until teachers and staff are vaccinated.

"Making schools a priority also means vaccinations for all who work in schools," said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. "California's providing vaccinations for cannabis delivery drivers, but not school bus drivers and teachers. How does that make sense?"

It's not clear when certain schools will reopen, but in Los Angeles County, teachers under age 65 aren't yet eligible to receive the vaccine. Some teachers unions have also urged caution and more safety measures.

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Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino doesn't understand why Los Angeles Unified School District hasn't opened for in-person learning at 25% capacity. He's introducing a motion to instruct the city attorney to look at what legal measures can be taken to get kids back in classrooms.

Still, Hahn said those K-6 schools which have obtained waivers or submitted COVID Safety Plans in advance would be potentially eligible to reopen starting Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear how many schools might meet those criteria.

"This is what we have been working towards," Hahn tweeted. "Thank you to everyone who has worn your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in LA County are dropping. Now we can continue the work getting our kids and teachers safely back in classrooms where they belong."

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Hahn's tweet, saying the state's threshold to let elementary schools reopen is a rate of 25 COVID-19 cases or less of for every 100,000 people in the county.

The county is informing school districts that it expects to meet this threshold as of Tuesday.

"This encouraging news means that dozens of elementary schools will be permitted to reopen for in-class instruction for students grades TK-6 as early as this week," the county health department said. "All schools wishing to reopen must submit plans to the County Department of Public Health and the California Department of Public Health certifying that they have implemented a full range of safety measures to permit a safe reopening."

"This is an encouraging milestone and we look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to ensure students, teachers and staff will be returning to schools."

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The new head of the CDC and some medical experts argue schools can reopen safely before teachers are vaccinated - but unions and some districts urge caution.

The news came out Monday as a caravan of parents made its way through downtown Los Angeles, honking horns and waving signs demanding that schools reopen soon.

Parents, educators and doctors say by staying at home students are suffering high rates of mental health issues and it's harming their educational and social development.

The group says data and research indicates that schools are the safest place for kids.

CDC guidelines say in-person schooling can resume safely with masks and other protocols and that vaccination of teachers is not necessary. At Monday's rally they said labor negotiations between the public schools and their unions are slowing the process of reopening all schools.

"They've all pushed fear instead of resilience," said parent Ross Novie. "They play politics instead of studying the science,"

The Los Angeles teachers union wants teachers to be vaccinated before schools reopen.

"Embedded in our bargaining framework are the components of a safe return that I listed earlier. One: Vaccines for all educators and school staff," said United Teachers Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says: "Making schools a priority also means vaccinations for all who work in schools. California is providing vaccinations for cannabis delivery drivers but not school bus drivers and teachers. How does that make sense?"

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature are trying to work out a school re-opening plan. The governor has said if vaccines for all teachers and staff are a condition then schools might not reopen at all this academic year.
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