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LA County Schools Are Making Plans To Reopen Campuses For Small Groups

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Los Angeles County schools will probably not be able to welcome all students back to campus for at least anothersix-to-eight weeks, but as of this week, they can bring back students in need of "specialized support and services" in small groups.

According to the guidance from county public health officials, schools can welcome back 10% of the total campus enrollment at a time, and should prioritize "students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and children who are English Learners (EL) needing assessments and/or specialized in-school services."

So far, more than 50 schools-- accounting for 400 staff members and 2,100 students -- have notified county health authorities of their intent to do so, including 38 campuses in the Alhambra Unified, Centinela Valley Union High, El Monte City, Lennox, Paramount Unified, and San Gabriel Unified school districts. Two are charter schools, and the other 15 are private schools.

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You can check out the full list on the public health website.

At a Sept. 9, 2020 press conference, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health director Barbara Ferrer explained the process for welcoming small cohorts of students back to campuses after the coronavirus closures. (Screenshot of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health press conference)

School administrators have to fill out a form and confirm they'll have "sufficient and appropriate" personal protective equipment for staff, that they have plans for "surveillance testing and follow up testing" and will report the results to county public health officials, and that they will comply with the county's school reopening checklist.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health director Barbara Ferrer said last week that schools are supposed to submit this information to county health officials five days before opening, though "the school does not need to wait for our approval to reopen, as long as they're adhering to the required directives and attestations."

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner told reporters on Monday that his district has just begun "a one-to-one [tutoring] effort outside of schools."

"We'll see how that goes," he said. "We'll let the science provide the foundation. We'll continue to learn from other school districts."

United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents LAUSD teachers, had previously expressed concerns about reopening for these small groups of students.

UTLA elementary vice president Gloria Martinez, who herself is also a special education teacher, told KPCC's AirTalk that reopening too soon "not only puts our members at risk, but it puts a group of students who are already vulnerable at a greater risk."

"We just don't feel that is a risk worth taking," she said. "We just don't feel comfortable that the state and the district or the county has done enough to prepare our district to open up."

Manhattan Beach Unified, a much smaller district, had already been looking at a "high need hybrid" as a step in its reopening plans. (Hybrid is a term that's gotten a new meaning as a result of the pandemic closures. Here, it means students will sometimes get their instruction in person, and other times will learn remotely).

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At a school board meeting last week, administrators said the district is also in discussion with its own teacher's union, and other local districts, as it considers when and how to offer in-person services.

"We need to look at needs," assistant superintendent for student services Irene Gonzalez-Castillo told the board. "We also have to take a look at which services we've been actually successful at delivering through distance learning, that we can continue to do so in a hybrid model, and which ones need in-person."

Carrie Wetsch is a Manhattan Beach Unified parent. Her son Tyler, who's in eighth grade, usually has a team of adults supporting him at school -- including his special ed teacher, a one-on-one aide, a speech therapist and assistant, and an occupational therapist and their assistant.

But when schools closed to slow the spread of coronavirus, all of that support moved online. Some aspects could still be done over Zoom. Others -- like occupational therapy and behavioral support -- were more difficult to deliver remotely.

"Not being able to go to school, he's forgetting and losing some of those skills that we've been working really hard on," Wetsch said.

Which is why she was excited to hear there was a way for some students with special needs, such as Tyler, to return to school for in-person services, though she recognizes it's a complicated issue. While she's comfortable with the safety precautions the district is taking, she wishes there was a way to try going back one day a week.

"This whole situation is just such a mixed bag of every emotion ... for so many different reasons," Wetsch said. "There's no black-and-white concrete direction that I'm going with [for] any of these decisions that we have to make."

KPCC's education reporter Kyle Stokes contributed reporting to this story.