Story by Katie Hohman
Photo courtesy of Abigail Silver
The district has delayed its grades TK-2 return plan indefinitely after state officials released new restrictions on Thursday, Jan. 14 that prohibit L.A. County schools from reopening due to record coronavirus cases. SPUSD elementary schools had previously been approved to reopen in January, but must now wait until the county has been at or below 25 cases per 100,000 people per day for at least five consecutive days.
Kindergarten students were expected to return back to in-person school with a hybrid model on Monday, Feb. 8, followed by first and second graders on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The new state restrictions superseded L.A. County’s waiver for SPUSD’s reopening, which the district initially sought with guidance from local health officials.
“We know that children can transmit [COVID-19],” UCLA doctor Dr. Nava Yeganeh said. “However, we do know from other countries that many of the outbreaks are still driven by adults — an adult staff member bringing an outbreak into the classroom or to other members of the staff. So, the focus does really have to be on making sure adults are kept safe in the school environment.”
Educators are in Phase 1B for receiving the vaccination, which is expected to begin in early February.
During a School Board meeting before the state’s new restrictions, parents voiced their opinions on the reopening plans, with those in support of grades TK-2 returning to school sharing their concern about distance learning’s challenges for their young children.
“We have students whose education development and health are suffering, despite teachers doing the best they can,” parent Lawrence Wingaurd said. “Taking the position to not reopen until the pandemic is lessened, eradicated, or until everyone is vaccinated is unrealistic and unwarranted by the science. We cannot continue to compromise our kids’ education and wellbeing.”
Other community members urged the Board to push back the date, fearing that the teachers would be at risk.
“Distance learning is by no means perfect, but it works,” Arroyo Vista pre-K teacher Julie Littlefield said. “My students are present every day and have been making tremendous progress. We sing, dance, socialize, and take breaks whenever necessary. Going back to school and then having to transition back to distance learning when we don’t have enough subs to cover sick teachers or have an outbreak will result in more learning lost.”
Once the L.A. County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) approved SPUSD’s waiver in December, health officials visited all three elementary schools and authorized them for reopening.
“[The LACDPH] had a lot of good things to say about everything that we had in place and they thought we did a really thorough job,” SPUSD nurse Abigail Silver said. “The bottom line is that when we are able to reopen [the LACDPH] and the schools have put really great measures in place to be safe for the students and the staff.”
SPUSD elementary schools cannot reopen until L.A. County’s adjusted case rate drops from 48.2 to 25 per 100,000 people for at least five consecutive days.