How Will 'Hybrid Schedules' Work If K-12 Schools Reopen This Fall? LAUSD Is Thinking About It

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This fall, Los Angeles public school students might spend one week on campus, followed by another week learning from home.

Or students might rotate through the classroom every other day. Or once every five days. Or every third week.

And even if the Los Angeles Unified School District resumes in-person instruction this fall — they haven't yet made the decision to do so — some students will likely need the choice to remain at home.

Superintendent Austin Beutner left all of these options open in a video address on Wednesday, offering the most comprehensive look yet at how LAUSD officials are approaching the task of reopening the nation's second-largest school district during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Beutner didn't commit to reopening campuses by August 18, he also said the district is likely to adopt some type of "hybrid" schedule this fall, with students cycling on and off campuses in shifts in order to maintain social distancing — as county education officials and public health authorities have advised.

THE BALANCING ACT

Beutner framed some type of hybrid schedule as the only workable option. While no reopening plan comes "without risk" of exposure to the coronavirus, he said it was also urgent for districts to return students to classrooms in order to prevent some of the most vulnerable students from falling deeply or permanently behind in school.

"For some — in particular younger students, English learners, students with learning differences and disabilities and those who were struggling before school facilities were closed," Beutner said, "there may be a lifelong impact if they are not back in school sometime soon."


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But LAUSD will face a difficult balancing act making any reopening plan work.

Just last week, Beutner warned that Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposed state budget — which cuts the state's main K-12 funding formula by 10% — "does not provide the necessary funding to safely reopen schools."

Any plan to move LAUSD to a hybrid schedule would also have to be negotiated with the district's labor unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles — which has also expressed concerns about the safety of reopening schools if budget cuts are enacted.

And a hybrid schedule plan is likely to leave deeply mixed feelings among parents and caregivers who will have to rearrange their own lives around whatever calendar LAUSD chooses.

"In the long run," Beutner said in his speech, "there's no economy without an educated and trained workforce and in the short run, the economy is in shambles without the safety net and support schools provide to working families."

A QUANDARY FACING MANY DISTRICTS

Beutner's speech offered a window into a process playing out right now in districts across California.

Last week, L.A. County education officials released their own guidelines for reopening the county's more-than 2,400 schools. Among their recommendations: masks for all students and staff, one-way hallways and continued social distancing at all times — including at lunch, recess and on buses.

Schools aren't necessarily required to follow the "best practices" suggested in the county's handbook; it's up to each of L.A. County's 80 districts to create their own reopening plan. County Superintendent Debra Duardo said the only hard-and-fast rules schools must follow are public health orders.

Still, some districts have pushed back against some of the county's suggestions. Nine L.A. County superintendents signed a letter to Duardo to reconsider some recommendations — including those calling for six feet of distancing, masks for young children and a ban on large gatherings.

"The guidelines need to be flexible for different age groups within a school district," said Dr. Alice Kuo, president of the Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a statement.

L.A. County's guidelines also call for having fewer students in a classroom at any given time — though on Wednesday, Beutner cautioned that this isn't the same thing as a "smaller class size." LAUSD isn't likely to reduce the number of students assigned to each teacher "unless the state ... is going to dramatically increase funding for schools to hire more adults."

State officials have also teased their own forthcoming set of guidelines on reopening schools, but Gov. Gavin Newsom said late last week that they were still in draft form.

'NOT AS SIMPLE AS WEARING MASKS'

Beutner has used his regular weekly speeches to harp on state and local officials for help and funding, particularly for functions he feels other agencies should be performing.

On Wednesday, Beutner called on local health authorities to make their testing plan public "before August 18" — the start of LAUSD's fall semester — "so schools can plan accordingly."

He also called for more details on county and city officials' contact tracing plans. Elsewhere in the speech, he noted that a case of the virus at even one isolated elementary school could put as many as 30,000 other people — linked through siblings or staff members — at risk of exposure.

Beutner also said that in case someone gets the coronavirus at school, schools will need public health directions and liability protections.

"We all want to be back in schools," Beutner said, returning to a line he's repeated frequently during this crisis: "Unfortunately, it's not as simple as wearing masks, moving the desks or putting some painter's tape on the floor to keep students further apart...

"We owe it to all in the school community to make sure we do this the right way."

Carla Javier contributed to this report