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Youngest Kids Could Return To Classrooms With More Staff Vaccinations

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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says elementary schools may be able to reopen for in-person classes, if certain conditions are met. (Courtesy of LAUSD)
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L.A. Unified School District campuses could reopen for 250,000 elementary school students if 25,000 principals, teachers, and other staff are vaccinated, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in his weekly address on Monday.

"Vaccinate 25,000 people and reopen elementary schools in the nation’s second-largest school district. Sounds simple to me," Beutner said.

The vaccinations would be one of three conditions required to reopen campuses, Beutner said. The others are a series of safety protocols that he said are already in place, and lower COVID-19 case rates.

"School classrooms are closed because it is against the law for schools in Los Angeles Unified to reopen due to the continued dangerously high level of the virus in the communities we serve," Beutner said in the address.

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Currently, teachers are not a prioritized group to receive vaccines in L.A. County, but local officials have indicated they will be next in line, after residents 65 and older.

LAUSD schools have remained closed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, aside from some small-group instruction for special needs students. In recent weeks, as case rates started falling, state and county officials encouraged districts to plan for broader school reopenings in the near future.

Still, Beutner and representatives of the district's teacher union have made it clear they expect more than downward trending cases before they're ready to get back in classrooms.

Beutner emphasized this point, in part, in response to last week's statement by L.A. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino that he will introduce a motion asking the city attorney to file a lawsuit seeking to force LAUSD to reopen schools. Beutner and school board members lashed out at Buscaino, calling his proposal a political stunt.

While Beutner did not mention Buscaino by name in his address, he said "threats of lawsuits, finger-pointing and speech-making won't help." He also addressed Buscaino’s inspiration for a lawsuit — a similar threat in San Francisco, which sued its own district last week. Over the weekend, the San Francisco public school district reached a tentative agreement with labor partners to reopen schools.

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Beutner noted that the agreement was possible because San Francisco’s COVID-19 rate is much lower than the rate in Los Angeles.

"San Francisco authorities worked together and brought the rate of infection under control and the area for some time has met the state standard for school reopening, but that's just not the case in Los Angeles," Beutner said.

As of last week, the adjusted case rate in L.A. County was 38.7 positive cases per 100,000 people. To reopen, cases need to drop below 25 per 100,000. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer predicted the county could cross that threshold sometime this month.

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Beutner's third criteria for reopening is implementing COVID-19 safety protocols, something he says is already complete.

"Los Angeles Unified has done more than any school district in the nation to prepare schools to welcome students back to in-person classes," Beutner said.

Beutner included a list of the preventative measures the district has in place, including new air filtration systems, distanced workspaces, health screening stations, plexiglass partitions and contact tracing programs. The district also plans to distribute six reusable cloth masks to each student when they return.

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