All LAUSD Schools Are Closing Monday. Here's What You Need To Know
By Kyle Stokes and Carla Javier
The Los Angeles Unified School District has announced plans to cancel in-person instruction starting Monday as the coronavirus spreads worldwide. For the next two weeks, all 472,000 students will continue their coursework online.
In an email to LAUSD staff, Superintendent Austin Beutner said the two-week closure will give district leaders a chance to "evaluate the appropriate path forward."
Technically, the order to close only covers LAUSD's district-run schools. But many charter schools within LAUSD's boundaries -- which serve an additional 115,000 children -- are likely to take cues from the district and may close as well.
The decision is another high-profile example of how mounting concern about COVID-19 is affecting daily life in Los Angeles. LAUSD is not only the largest K-12 district in the U.S. to shut down so far, but also one of the largest employers in the region to suspend normal operations.
"We're in uncharted waters as we work to prevent the spread of the illness," Beutner said.
Beutner has promised the district's 70,000 employees will continue to receive paychecks even if they are unable to provide direct services to students.
In a Friday morning press conference, Beutner said there are still no known links between any virus cases and LAUSD schools.
L.A. Unified announced its plans to close in a joint statement with California's second-largest district, San Diego Unified, where schools will close until April 6.
Beutner said the joint announcement was meant to send a "signal" to state leaders. So far, state and local public health officials have said schools don't need to close unless there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 among the students or staff.
"This is something the state needs to be with us," Beutner said, "as we pursue not only this chapter but what comes from here."
DISTRICT TO OPEN 'FAMILY RESOURCE CENTERS'
LAUSD leaders also announced 40 "family resource centers" will open to provide care for children on district campuses next Wednesday, March 18.
Once they're open, the centers will be staffed on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. There, children "will be able to have a warm meal, engage with their peers and pursue their different studies," Beutner wrote. The centers will serve as many students who have need for them, Beutner added.
A mix of Red Cross volunteers, L.A. County employees and district staff will operate the centers, district leaders said. LAUSD employees will be paid "extra" to staff these centers and will be "kept safe," Beutner told reporters Friday.
In addition, LAUSD food service workers and perhaps instructional aides "will be among those staffing these centers," said Blanca Gallegos, a spokeswoman for their union, SEIU Local 99.
Any adults and children who come to these centers will be asked to wash their hands and screened using thermometer guns to ensure anyone using the centers doesn't have the coronavirus -- a decision Beutner acknowledged Friday wasn't without risk.
In addition, while schools are closed, Gallegos said it's "possible" LAUSD's custodians may be "called in to do deep cleaning of schools while students are out."
"This is all still being finalized," Gallegos added.
Until now, leaders of the nation's second-largest school district had resisted closing campuses. District officials had feared for the welfare of the nearly 80 percent of LAUSD students who depend on the district for free or reduced-price meals and other social services.
LAUSD officials have asked schools to prepare for the possibility a case might appear on their campus. In recent days, though, more drastic steps have begun to look more inevitable.
District officials urged teachers to prepare to deliver lessons online and asked the state for $50 million in emergency funding to ensure all students had devices and internet access at home. District officials also announced plans to partner with three local public television stations to broadcast "standards-based instructional content" for the duration.
On Thursday, United Teachers Los Angeles -- the union which represents school nurses in addition to LAUSD's classroom teachers -- urged LAUSD to halt the preparations and "proactively" close schools. Some parents have already pulled their children out of class.
WHAT THE DISTRICT IS DOING
- For special education students: Beutner said regional service centers are shifting to become the "primary daily place" for services; he highlighted in particular students with moderate to severe disabilities. "These are some of our most vulnerable students. A spread [of the virus] among that cohort" would be serious, he added. According to a statement from the Special Education Principals' Organization, families of particularly vulnerable children can access services at regional centers "as they normally do during winter break, spring break and the summer." Other services, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy might be made available at the family resource centers: "There are a thousand questions we've asked ourselves and a thousand questions we haven't yet."
- For students who need devices: LAUSD has said they only have devices for roughly 330,000 of the district's 487,000 students. To fill this gap, the district has spent $10 million to purchase a large number of devices "similar" to a Google Chromebook. Beutner told reporters those could be delivered to students as early as the middle of next week.
- For students who need internet access: LAUSD had hoped internet service providers might step forward to help provide internet to the estimated 25 percent of district students who lack access at home. The district will rely heavily on online platforms, including some that require data-intensive plans that will likely max out students' or parents' data plans. But Beutner said there hasn't been progress made at reaching a deal with service providers to cover this gap.
REACTIONS TO THE CLOSURE
- L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti: "I know that LAUSD leaders did not arrive at the decision to close schools lightly. This will be a challenging time for families and put a strain on teachers and students -- and each of us can play a part in supporting them. The city will work closely with the school district to help ensure our kids are healthy, safe, and fed during this closure. Employers should give workers the job security and flexibility they need to protect the wellbeing of their children."
- UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl repeated a call he issued Thursday night asking for a drastic expansion of the social safety net -- including an eviction moratorium, debt forgiveness, additional paid leave -- to meet the growing emergency: "We have hotel workers who are the parents of our students," Caputo-Pearl said, "who are facing being fired because of lack of business at hotels or whatever the case may be." On Thursday, the teachers union also issued demands to suspend penalties for schools that miss standardized tests -- which could have begun in LAUSD schools as early as this week -- and to ensure all students have internet access at home home.
- SEIU Local 99 president Max Arias says the LAUSD employees his union represents -- including custodians, bus drivers and food service workers -- "are ready to continue to work" through the closure. "Our members tend to live in the communities in which they work," Arias added, "so it's also their families that are being impacted by this. We are ready to support our communities."
HOW WE REPORTED ON THIS
Reporter Carla Javier was at L.A. Unified headquarters covering the board meetings and press conferences. K-12 reporter Kyle Stokes was the lead writer on this story and gathered reaction throughout the day. Reporter Mariana Dale spoke to parents and staff at local schools. Digital producer Ryan Fonseca kept this story updated.
MORE ON CORONAVIRUS: