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LAUSD Shuts Down Campuses That Had Partially Reopened

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Austin Beutner (left), superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, takes directions from a school nurse after taking a test for COVID-19 at a press event at Harry Bridges Span School in Wilmington on Sept. 14, 2020. The nation's second-largest school system was announcing the launch of a district-run coronavirus testing system for students, staff and some family members. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist)
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With a new regional stay-at-home order in effect, the L.A. Unified School District is shutting down all campuses that had partially reopened for one-on-one and small-group tutoring and services, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced today.

The district will also shut down child care services that were being provided on campuses for school-based employees and high-needs families, along with training programs for student athletes.

The changes — which will take effect on Thursday, Dec. 10 — will affect about 4,000 students who had been on LAUSD campuses, as well as a significant number of the 15,000 to 18,000 staff working on site on a given day.

"My commitment remains the same as I made when we were forced to close schools in March – we will not reopen schools until it’s safe and appropriate to do so," Beutner said in his weekly videotaped address. "This commitment also means we must respond to current conditions in the community."

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"Because of the dangerously high level of COVID in the Los Angeles area, it’s no longer safe and appropriate to have any students on campus. We’ll also be asking those who are currently working at schools to work from home if it’s at all possible for the rest of the semester."

Four of the more than 600 LAUSD schools providing limited in-person services are listed by the L.A. County Department of Public Health as having three or more confirmed cases of COVID-19.

While the regional stay-at-home order is effective until at least Dec. 28, Beutner said LAUSD's changes to the already limited in-person tutoring and services will remain in effect until at least Jan. 10.

As written by state officials, the regional stay-at-home order explicitly allows for schools that had already opened with waivers and for these specialized in-person services to remain open. Asked why LAUSD is choosing to close these in-person services while they are allowed to remain open, Beutner pointed to public health officials who have called the spread of the virus "dangerous."

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"Our goal is to have all students back on campus as soon as possible, and safe as possible, but dangerous COVID is dangerous COVID," Beutner said in an interview. "Stay at home is stay at home."

The superintendent also summarized the responses to a parent form that asked families if they'd prefer in-person hybrid learning on campus — once permitted by public health authorities — or if they'd like to continue with online-only distance learning.

Almost two-thirds of the more than 103,000 responses through the Return to Campus Program Selection Form preferred continued online-only distance learning over hybrid, while 37% said they would choose to send their kids in-person when it was offered.

The superintendent also pointed out what he called “a sobering finding”: families with higher incomes were more likely to choose some form of in-person learning than families with fewer resources.

Beutner said the district believes this disparity has less to do with schools themselves, and more to do with the challenges lower-income families are facing right now.

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“The consequence of this is truly profound,” Beutner said. “Students not at school will fall further behind, which may lead to another generation stuck in poverty.”

Families considered the two options without yet knowing how exactly hybrid learning would work — like if cohorts of students would be on campus for part of a day, and doing distance learning for the other part of the day — or if they'd alternate whole days. Those details are still being negotiated with the union representing LAUSD educators, United Teachers Los Angeles.

While parents considered their choices and filled out the Return to Campus-Program Selection Form, cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County surged.

In virtual town halls and on the form itself, the district told families that if they did not respond by the Sunday, Dec. 6 deadline, they'd automatically be placed in the hybrid learning model, with the option to switch to online-only at any time.

Now, according to Beutner, this form will be used for planning, and another will be sent when more details are figured out and a return to campus is closer.

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"No one is going to be forced into either model," Beutner told us. "Every family has the ability to choose what they think is best for their child and family at that point in time, and that point in time is not today."

Beutner also reiterated his calls for a wide-ranging federal and state relief program that would cover the costs of coronavirus testing and contact tracing, cleaning and sanitizing schools, mental health support, and in-person instruction next summer to help students recover from learning loss.

“The dire situation faced by schoolchildren deserves the same extraordinary response we have come to expect after floods, wildfires and hurricanes in order to help return students to schools as soon as possible in the safest way possible,” Beutner said.

READ MORE OF OUR COVERAGE OF LAUSD AND THE PANDEMIC:

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