After more than one year of distance learning, the Los Angeles Unified School District will reopen its educational facilities the week of April 12, for the system’s 600,000+ students.
In preparation for the huge task, Superintendent Austin Beutner joined with African American and Jewish faith leaders to host two town halls outlining the actions that the district has taken to ensure the health and safety of pupils, staff and visitors to its campuses.
The forums, held virtually on March 21 and March 28, aimed to reassure families that the highest COVID safety standards have been implemented to prevent the spread of the virus at schools. Also, the sessions detailed L.A. Unified’s in-person and online instruction options for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Representing the faith community were Pastor J. Edgar Boyd of First AME Church, Pastor Mary S. Minor of Brookins-Kirkland Community AME Church, Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of Temple Beth Hillel, Youth Pastor Brandon Towns of City of Refuge Church, FAME Youth Pastor David Price, and Dr. Oscar Owens, Christian Education director, and John Wilson, Education and Enrichment director, of West Angeles Church of God in Christ. Also, Second Baptist Church, Ward AME Church and the Faith Coalition gave their support. LAUSD staff included Deputy Supt. Megan Reilly, Local District Supt. Mike Romero, Patricia Chambers, Dean Tagawa, Pia Sadaqatmal, Maribel Luna and Dr. Robert Whitman.
During welcoming remarks, Pastor Boyd noted that nearly 600 people tuned in for the town hall. “We want to make certain that parents feel as comfortable as you can feel about having your children reenter public spaces,” he said. “That’s the reason the faith community and LAUSD staff have been working together to put this program together to answer your questions so parents will know their children are going to a good, safe location.”
Beutner stressed the safety aspect even further by sharing that $1.8 billion had been invested to “help all students reach their full potential” by keeping schools clean and safe, adding teachers and counselors, and offering more tutoring and small group instruction. Also, he said the funding facilitated purchase of the latest technology and allowed for increased support for children with special needs.
“A team of scientists and researchers from UCLA, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Cedar Sinai, Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net have been advising us on the appropriate steps since last summer,” said Beutner. “We’ve upgraded the air-filtration systems, so the air in every classroom is filtered 24-hours-a-day through the equivalent of an N-95 mask. We have doubled the custodial staff to clean every room, top to bottom, and we’ll provide weekly COVID testing at school for every student and safety member.”
In addition, Beutner said that the district hopes to make the COVID vaccine available at schools, free of charge, to families in the school community. “Our first one will open at Washington Prep High School on April 5, and we hope to see you there,” he added.
The town halls were interactive, enabling viewers to ask questions and make comments in the chat box. Also, students from various public schools reported on what they liked the most about distance learning and what they expect upon returning to school.
While practically every student stated that they missed their friends and looked forward to seeing them in the flesh, they also disclosed that they adapted quickly to the Zoom classes and enjoyed the flexibility that the app offered. Cody Holmes, a 9th grader at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts High School, said, “I like being able to log on for school from anywhere.”
Desiree Bell, a 6th grade student at Western Avenue Tech Magnet School, agreed that using technology was an asset, especially when it came to turning in assignments. “I don’t like paper homework because there’s so much that can go wrong like you can lose it or ruin it,” she said. “But with technology, you don’t really have an excuse not to turn it (homework) in.”
Other students who gave testimonials about distance learning and resuming in-person classes included London Grant, a 4th grader at Melrose Magnet; Dione Bell, a 6th grader at Western Avenue Tech Magnet School (and the twin of Desiree Bell); Evian Crosby, an 8th grader at Bethune Middle School and Natalie Larios, an 11th grader at Fremont High School Medical Science Academy.
LAUSD staff also provided an overview on the reopening of the schools. The information covered the online posting of a Daily Pass Health Check for all students, the requirement of face masks and temperature checks for every person entering the campuses, and the completion of a Health and Safety Readiness Report Card, which contains a series of actions that every school must achieve before it is approved to reopen.
Parents and guardians were urged to register their children online via the district’s Parent Portal that is linked to each student’s I.D. number. After registration, parents can obtain daily passes for their child, schedule COVID-19 tests or sign up for other school activities.
Also, parents were encouraged to complete the LAUSD Program Selection Form that was distributed via email and U.S. Mail. The form lets parents designate if their child’s schedule will be hybrid (online and in-person) or online only, if on-site supervised care is desired, whether school bus transportation is needed and if the student is interested in attending summer school.
“Our children are a blessing from God and our most precious resource,” Pastor Minor said. “The faith community is charged to train them in a safe environment. We will safeguard their minds, bodies and souls. Therefore, we are committed to partnering with Los Angeles Unified and the families of the students who attend these schools to ensure a safe reopening and return to the classroom.”
Complete information about the schools reopening is available at reopening.lausd.net or call the LAUSD hotline at (213) 443-1300.
Pastor Brandon Towns and Cody Holmes, LAUSD student (Zoom screenshot)