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LA County Reaches Threshold To Reopen Schools. What Does That Mean For LAUSD?

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An example of what an L.A. Unified School District classroom could look like if campuses reopen. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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For the first time since the pandemic began, L.A. County has reached a threshold for reopening school campuses -- but that doesn’t mean the L.A. Unified School District is ready to bring students back.

Over the last month, Superintendent Austin Beutner has pushed back against pressure to reopen schools, and has criticized messaging from the state and county health departments.

“Changing and inconsistent guidelines undermine the trust all in the school community need to have that their schools are as safe as possible,” Beutner said in his weekly address on Monday.

L.A. County reaching this reopening threshold is partially on account of dropping case rates, but also because the conditions for in-person instruction have recently changed.

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Until early January, counties in the most restrictive "purple" tier, such as Los Angeles, were not allowed to open school campuses. That changed when Gov. Gavin Newsom released the Safe Schools For All plan, a funding proposal meant to encourage districts to reopen schools for the youngest students.

According to that plan, which has yet to be finalized, districts can reopen classes for transitional kindergarten through second grade in counties reporting 25 positive coronarius cases out of 100,000 people, a rate that is still deep in the purple tier.

After that proposal was released, the state altered its health guidance to allow TK-6 grade classes to reopen in-person once the new threshold is reached in a county.

While L.A. County has now met that first requirement of lowered cases, LAUSD also needs to propose a reopening safety plan with the support of the district unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). That expectation is still far from met.

Beutner said the district sent a draft plan to the state last month, but it's missing the union's sign-off.

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The district and the teachers' union were hoping to come to an initial agreement in late January, but bargaining has now stretched on for weeks longer as vaccinations and case thresholds have emerged as sticking points.

UTLA leaders have made it clear they don’t support a return to campus in the purple tier.

“We remain firmly in the Purple Tier, which indicates [an] extremely high-risk level, and health officials are concerned that the more contagious variants spreading in our community could lead to another spike,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a union update video on Friday.

The union is also pushing for all teachers to be vaccinated before returning to campuses, a precaution that Gov. Newsom and officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called unnecessary.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health has indicated that educators will be a prioritized group, but they likely won’t be eligible to receive shots until March.

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