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Health Officials Grant More Waivers To Reopen Schools For Youngest Grades

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Kadima Day School in West Hills added plexiglass barriers as part of COVID-19 precautions. (Courtesy of Kadima Day School)
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Giant plexiglass barriers in the front of the classroom, an isolation room, outdoor picnic tables with assigned spots to sit, and a swivelling iPad streaming lessons for at-home learners are just some of the new features at Kadima Day School in West Hills, which reopened its classrooms for first- and second-graders today.

Schools in Los Angeles generally cannot reopen their classrooms for in-person instruction yet – with a few exceptions, like for small groups of students with special needs and who are learning English. But a few have been granted waivers by the L.A. County Department of Public Health to reopen for kids in transitional kindergarten through second grade.

Kadima Day, a private school in West Hills, was one of the first four schools to get one of those coveted waivers. All four of the first round of schools approved were private schools.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the department and state have approved 25 more waivers this week.

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If you add in waivers granted by Long Beach and Pasadena’s health departments, 37 schools in Los Angeles County have gotten this permission so far.

Kadima Day Head of School Steven Lorch said he and his team had been interested in a waiver since Governor Gavin Newsom first introduced the idea in July. When it came time to apply in October, all the required changes and modifications cost the school an extra $135,000. Lorch said PPP funds, a grant, and fundraising helped cover the cost.

When he got the approval, he said he was “elated and relieved.”

“I completely understand why they wanted to limit it through second grade,” he explained. “That said, our older students -- they're doing well, with remote learning. They would do better if they were in person. The moment we can bring them back, we will.”

As of last week’s public health update, 110 schools had applied for the reopening waivers. Previously, to apply, schools had to provide letters of support from parents and from staff. But California State PTA had discouraged PTA chapters from signing these letters, citing “potential liability,” and some administrators wondered if the labor support requirement would make it easier for private schools to apply than public schools with unionized staff.

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Now, the county department is changing a few of these application requirements. Instead of requiring explicit letters of support, they’ll instead require “consultation” with staff and parents “to accommodate the time delays associated with obtaining letters of support,” according to a statement from L.A. Public Health.

Still, Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors that they’re encouraging schools applying to get letters of support, even if they’re not required anymore.

“[It’s] impossible to imagine that you could open up for services for students grades TK through grade 2 without having teachers, staff and parents supporting those efforts,” Ferrer said.

You can see a map of Southern California schools that have applied for reopening waivers below.

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If you work at or have a kid at a Los Angeles County school that has applied for a waiver – whether or not it has been approved – I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at cjavier@scpr.org.

As for when and how the county’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified, could reopen: The union representing its teachers reiterated on Friday that they’re continuing to bargain over when and how to reopen schools once permitted by public health authorities, and emphasized that “a return is not imminent.” Superintendent Austin Beutner echoed a similar sentiment during Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting, acknowledging that “the state has issued guidelines and we are still well above those guidelines.”

There is another way for schools to reopen, though. Ferrer said since September, more than 1,000 schools have reopened for small groups of students in need of specialized, in-person services, like students with disabilities and students learning English.

Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that there have been “small numbers of cases” related to those school reopenings, adding, “and with only two exceptions, there are no outbreaks.”

FOR MORE ABOUT THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS APPLYING FOR AND OBTAINING WAIVERS:

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READ MORE OF OUR COVERAGE OF THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS:

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