How LAUSD Is Responding To Coronavirus Worries

Supt. Austin Beutner updates the LAUSD board on the district's coronavirus response at its meeting on March 10, 2020 (screenshot from LAUSD stream)

How is the nation's second-largest school district preparing for a possible further spread of the coronavirus? That's what the district officials wanted to address at Tuesday's school board meetings.

In the immediate: the board voted unanimously to approve an emergency declaration and give Supt. Austin Beutner broad authority to "to take any and all actions necessary" to keep the nation's second-largest school system running during the coronavirus outbreak.

"Our usual manner of procurement, usual manner of deliberation, while appropriate in much circumstance, will not allow us to make sure we have paper towels and soap in all of our schools tomorrow," Beutner told the board before the vote. "We have to do things differently and recognize that the time is not something we can control."


icon
DON'T MISS ANY L.A. CORONAVIRUS NEWS

Get our daily newsletter for the latest on COVID-19 and other top local headlines.

Terms of Use and Privacy Policy


But what will the district do with that authority? While the board's vote to extend Beutner's authority was unanimous, some board members expressed reservations about its broad scope.

"I just hope that we can continue to have very quick response to the board as to what you're doing and when you're doing it and why you're doing it," board member Jackie Goldberg said.

During the regular school board meeting (which you can watch here), Deputy Supt. Megan Reilly laid out the district's preparations.

Here are the highlights:

HOW ARE LAUSD SCHOOLS GETTING CLEANED?

While some local districts are fogging classrooms with Lysol and stocking up on electrostatic sprayers, Reilly told the board that in LAUSD schools, extra attention is being paid to "high-use" areas, like bathrooms, lunch areas, "even the faculty lounge coffee pot," drinking fountains, doorknobs, playgrounds, locker rooms, and school buses.

SEIU Local 99 represents school custodians, among other school workers. In a statement, executive director Max Arias encouraged the district to listen to workers on the frontlines.

"We commend the district on their current efforts to offer overtime and expedite supply acquisition as an immediate response to the coronavirus," he said in a written statement. "But we urge the district to look at long-term solutions by implementing a rapid hire program to expedite the recruitment and training of custodians. We also urge the state to fund our schools. Increasing funding and staffing levels will ensure that we keep our schools safe and sanitary now in the face of this crisis and into the future."

In the letter to state health and education authorities, as well as state legislators, Beutner also asked for "a state-supported stockpile of hygiene and cleaning materials reserved for schools to use, such as soap, paper towels and sanitizing products."

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE DISTRICT HAS TO MOVE TO ONLINE LEARNING?

"We're looking at multiple levels and tiered platforms to provide online continuity of instruction," Reilly explained. "The most important thing that we can do is keep the continuity and kids in school, and then if they can't be in school, then the education still continues."

She mentioned three tools to do that: the district's learning management system, which is called Schoology; an online learning platform called Edgenuity; and programming on the district's television station, KLCS.

Though, she admitted, "we're not rigorous enough yet to kind of tackle everything."

In discussion, Reilly and the board members acknowledged that not all families have access to internet or devices at home.

On March 9, Beutner sent letters to internet companies — including Verizon, AT&T, Charter, Sprint, and T-Mobile — to "discuss ... a plan to support our students by providing internet access to those who may not otherwise have access to learning."

We've reached out to the companies for comment, and will update if we hear back.

According to the letter Beutner wrote to state authorities, the district would need an additional 150,000 devices for students to continue learning at home.

Beutner asked for "an immediate, emergency appropriation of $50 million" to provide those devices.

WHAT ABOUT STUDENTS WHO DEPEND FREE AND REDUCED-PRICE LUNCH IF SCHOOLS CLOSE?

According to Reilly, the district produces 700,000 meals a day.

"If there are significant closures for an extended period of time, we're putting in place plans to be able to serve meals to every one of our students who needs a meal," Beutner said.

Reilly told the board that the district is looking at "shelf meals, which would be much more resilient."

She added that the district already has "quite ... an inventory of those."

Beutner elaborated on meal service after the meeting. "We will do that most likely through the campuses that we have. We'll do it in partnership with county and other public safety authorities to make sure the delivery of meals or the provision of meals is done safely," he said.

WHAT ELSE?

Beutner brought up other concerns in the letter to the California Department of Health, Department of Education, state legislators, and the governor's office.

Those included relief from attendance-based funding rules and supporting employees in the event schools close.

"The closing of any school will have real consequences beyond the loss of instructional time," Beutner wrote.

You can read the whole thing below:

In the meantime, the district is pointing parents to its website for more information.

MORE ON CORONAVIRUS: