Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will soon open for in-person instruction and Dr. George J. McKenna III is ready to welcome students back into the classroom.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more than a year of remote teaching for pupils, but now the district has implemented the latest public health measures to ensure a safe learning environment for children, faculty and staff.
“It’s an exciting time! To parents, let me say that we look forward to welcoming your children back to campus. The teachers have missed their students and cannot wait to see them in person after 17 months,” said McKenna, who represents District 1, which covers the Crenshaw area and a large section of South L.A.
“Schools will open on time on August 16 and we are planning a full in-person return to campus to start the 2021 school year. Elementary – K-5 – and secondary – middle and high school – students will have a full day of instruction on campus and all health and safety guidelines will be followed to protect all of our students, faculty and staff,” he said.
Also, virtual learning will be available for students who wish to continue online instruction. The City of Angels Independent Study Program will offer classes from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Outlining the various health and safety protocols that LAUSD has implemented, McKenna said face coverings will be worn by everyone entering the campuses and students, faculty and staff will be requested to provide a negative COVID test each week.
“Each school site will have a mobile testing day available for COVID tests. In District 1, the site is Audubon Middle School, where you can go for COVID tests,” said McKenna, who added that the LAUSD Daily Pass will store information on weekly COVID tests for students, faculty and staff.
Social distancing guidelines will be instituted in the classrooms, such as increased space between desks and fewer students per class. In addition, playground equipment mostly used by younger children during recess, will be sterilized and wiped down on a daily basis.
School bus transportation to-and-from campus will be up and running as well. Sports programs will also resume normal schedules through the end of the school year. To meet the nutritional needs of students, McKenna noted that all students will be offered a free meal each day.
“Breakfast will be provided to students in the morning, lunch will be served in the cafeteria and supper may be eaten on campus or taken home. Students will be able to eat meals with friends following the latest public health and safety guidelines,” he said.
As in pre-pandemic times, the Behind the Bell afterschool program will operate during the weekdays. Dr. McKenna explained that children will participate in “enrichment activities and academic, physical, creative, social and emotional learning because we want our students to thrive physically and mentally.” The supervised program will be conducted each school day until 6 p.m.
McKenna’s deep concern for the education and development of young people is legendary throughout Los Angeles. Previously, a secondary and college teacher, his reputation reached national stature during his tenure as the principal of George Washington Preparatory High School in South L.A.
His reform strategies transformed the school from a failing institution to 80% of its graduates attending college. Actor Denzel Washington later dramatized his work in the award-winning CBS movie, “The George McKenna Story.” He has served on the L.A. Unified School Board since 2014.
As part of the preparation of returning to in-person classes, McKenna encouraged everyone to get vaccinated. Although vaccinations are not required of teachers, the board member stressed that those who are not inoculated must submit to daily testing to protect everyone on campus. (Note: On August 13, Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly announced that all Los Angeles Unified School District employees will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15. According to the district, LAUSD will consider medical or religious exemptions from the vaccine requirement. For employees who fail to comply with the mandate, the district “may take disciplinary action, including but not limited to placement on unpaid leave and/or separation from service,” Reilly said.)
“We’re not trying to make you uncomfortable, but we have to insist on you being protected for yourself and for others. We believe in accountability and accountability is not a penalty, but there is a consequence. So, we strongly suggest that you protect yourself by being vaccinated,” advised McKenna.
“Our area, particularly the Black community, is the least vaccinated group in the county of Los Angeles. The only people who’re getting sick now from the Delta variant virus are unvaccinated people. 98.6% of the people who are sick have not have been vaccinated,” he declared.
“If you choose to not to do it, you’re endangering your friends and family. Even if you’re not sick, you can transmit it and little children can transmit it. So, you can’t protect yourself, your loved ones and the house you live in if you don’t get vaccinated!”
To those who plan to return to in-person learning, McKenna extended a warm welcome, saying, “We want you to come back to school. You may choose to learn virtual, but it’s much better if students can socialize with each other, learn from each other and enjoy each other.”
To learn more, call the LAUSD hotline at (213) 443-1300 or visit lauds.net. For information on Behind the Bell afterschool program, visit btb.lausd.net.
Sentinel Managing Editor Brandon I. Brooks contributed to this report.