LAUSD Campuses Will Remain Closed Through End of School Year, Summer Session

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All campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation's second-largest — are now officially closed through summer.

"The remainder of the school year will be completed in the current, remote fashion and we will hold summer school in a similar manner," LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced in a video update Monday morning. (See the full address above.)

The announcement came exactly one month after LAUSD first closed campuses to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Initially, Beutner announced a two-week closure. Then, the district extended it to May 1.

"There is still no clear picture about testing, treatments or vaccines which we'll need to know more about in order to create a plan to safely reopen schools," Beutner said. "The facts and circumstances will continue to change but we will not reopen school facilities until state and local health authorities tell us how it is safe and appropriate to do so."

The official shutdown of LAUSD campuses was widely expected.

Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said last week that all of the other 79 school districts in the county have extended remote learning through the end of the academic year. With LAUSD's announcement, more than 1 million children in L.A. County will be learning from home for months to come.

In 17 minutes of remarks, Beutner updated the LAUSD community on instruction and summer school, the safety net, and plans for the class of 2020.


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INSTRUCTION AND SUMMER SCHOOL

Beutner addressed the many challenges with online learning.

"The transition from a physical classroom to a virtual one is an enormous undertaking," Beutner said. "There is no substitute for learning in a school setting, but it would be a mistake to try to simply replicate what happens in a classroom."

He alluded to a six-page agreement reached last week with the union representing LAUSD teachers.

Among the terms: live instruction isn't required, students cannot receive final grades lower than they had in March, and teachers will provide 240 minutes of instruction per day. (Planning time, training and faculty meetings will count toward the total.)

He also added Amazon to the list of companies working with the district to close the digital divide, by helping expand the capacity of the online platform Schoology, providing "a different way to deliver the devices to students at home," and contributing to efforts to get headphones to high school students.

Last week, Beutner said the district prioritized getting devices and hotspots to high school students, and hoped to distribute them to all elementary school students who need them by May.


RELATED: How Can LAUSD Students Borrow A Laptop For The Coronavirus Shutdown? We Have An Answer


Acknowledging the challenges of students who may be "a few credits short" of earning a high school diploma, Beutner said community colleges are partnering with LAUSD "to make sure no student slips between the cracks and to help students with a bridge to the next chapter of their lives."

Among the partners is the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District. In an interview on Monday afternoon, Ryan Cornner, LACCD vice chancellor for educational programs and institutional effectiveness, said the partnership will allow the community college district to promote its summer online classes directly, for the first time, to all LA Unified high school students.

"They can get both the credit for high school and graduate on time and also credits with us," Cornner said.

Community colleges already allow high school students to enroll, but until now it was up to the student to reach out to the college.

The online community college classes will be free. Cornner said about 20% of LACCD's programs were already online even before campuses closed in March in response to the coronavirus crisis.

"We do have very good distance education programs, and we have built out a lot of tools to support students," Cornner said. "We have online tutoring available for students. All of our student support services are available remotely."

He hopes LAUSD high school counselors can help students choose the right community college class. Class sign-ups are taking place now because summer instruction begins May 18.

As for summer school, Beutner said that it will also be held remotely and will consist of "four-week blocks of study for students at all levels," with a focus on "literacy, fluency in math, and critical thinking." He said details will be released soon.

Beutner also mentioned the challenges to serving students with special needs and students learning English, acknowledging that "the tools and technologies and teaching standards are not as well established in these areas."

THE SAFETY NET

According to Beutner, the district has distributed more than seven million meals at grab-and-go sites since March 18.

"The staggering size of this relief effort is a stark indicator about the growing need in the communities we serve," he said.

Beutner also addressed the stress and anxiety that has resulted from the disruption of campus shutdowns. He said the need for a safety net "was made very real for me late one evening last week when I received a message from a student having suicidal thoughts because of the pressure she was feeling about school and all of the chaos around her."

He reminded the school community of a mental health hotline the district opened up "to manage fear, anxiety and other challenges related to COVID-19."

The number for the mental health hotline is (213) 241-3840, and it's staffed by English- and Spanish-speaking counselors from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

THE CLASS OF 2020

Beutner emphasized the importance of celebrating seniors' accomplishments, but said that "at least for now," graduation will be virtual.

Frances Suavillo, the student representative to the LAUSD board, is working with other students on recommendations for how to celebrate the class of 2020.

"Safe graduation ceremonies to celebrate our achievements" were among the demands made by three 11th graders with the grassroots advocacy coalition Students Deserve in a letter to Beutner and school board members earlier this month.

As for post-graduation plans, Beutner said "much work still needs to be done to help the class of 2020 get college acceptances confirmed, financial aid secured and a summer plan completed to make sure they reach the next step in their journey."

REACTIONS TO THE EXTENDED CLOSURES

Beutner's announcement that in-person classes would not resume was not a surprise to teacher Aaron Lemos. He figured L.A. County's recent decision to extend its stay-at-home order "sealed it."

We introduced you to Lemos about a month ago, as LAUSD began its move to distance learning. He teaches video and film production courses as part of the magnet program at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills.

Already, the cancellation of in-person classes has had huge effects on Lemos' students. Normally, over spring break, his seniors produce 20-minute thesis films — a major endeavor, involving high-end production equipment and professional actors.

Students look forward to producing these films, Lemos said. But with no way to check out the equipment safely, he's been forced to cancel the projects. He's also improvising new assignments that will still allow dual-enrolled students to earn film credits from L.A. Mission College.

While he has had a few no-shows since distance learning started, he's been impressed with how most of his students have handled the switch so far: a visual poetry assignment has offered a unique look into students' lives in quarantine.

"That's how I'm addressing my class — my class is [a way] to burn off steam, a way to be creative," Lemos said. He tells them: "Look at this as a way to have fun, a way to be creative, to forget about all the other stuff that's going on, and to lose yourself in this moment."

A Venice parent named Kirk called in to KPCC's show AirTalk to share his reaction to the news. Kirk told host Larry Mantle that his kids - a third-grader and a fourth-grader - have had two different responses to online learning.

While he said his daughter has adapted and "is pretty productive," his son is struggling and requires supervision from him and his wife to keep the son accountable during class calls.

"This is not homeschooling in any way," he said. "Homeschooling is a choice that people make. This is Crisis Management 101."

WHAT'S NEXT?

According to Beutner, he will address "support for families and the sharing of instructional practices by teachers" in next week's update.

KPCC K-12 education reporter Kyle Stokes and higher education reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez contributed reporting.