Story by Georgia Parsons
Feature Associate Editor
Photo courtesy of Abigail Silver
The School Board unanimously approved the return of in-person instruction for grades TK to 2 in a hybrid model on Thursday, Feb. 18, at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The reopening is contingent on L.A. County’s adjusted case rate dropping below 25 per 100,000, which is on track to happen within the coming week according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health. If the county’s adjusted case rate is still over 25 per 100,000 on Tuesday, Feb. 16, the School Board will reconvene to revise reopening dates.
The elementary school administrative staff and the district’s COVID-19 Compliance Task Force created the reopening plan, which places students in designated smaller groups to limit the potential of spreading the coronavirus. TK and Kindergarten students will be divided into AM and PM classes, which will be further broken up into two cohorts, A and B, made up of approximately 12 students each.
For grades one and two, the AM group will meet Monday through Thursday from 8:10 a.m. to 10:55 a.m., while the PM group will meet Monday through Thursday from 11:40 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. Fridays will be entirely online for TK through second graders.
TK and Kindergarten students who choose the hybrid model will have 180 minutes of either in-person instruction or synchronous instruction, depending on the day, in addition to 150 minutes of asynchronous learning at home. In the hybrid model for students in grades one and two, 230 instructional minutes will be divided between in-person and asynchronous learning. Parents can also choose to keep their children at home in 100 percent distance learning.
To ensure the safety of students and teachers, everyone who will be on campus must complete a web-based health screening process, wear face coverings, and follow social distancing guidelines. Classrooms, offices, and hallways will be regularly disinfected.
In the case that a student or employee does contract the coronavirus, the individual will be sent home to isolate. Classrooms and surfaces that the individual may have touched will be disinfected. Communication will be sent to the wider school community about the case, and the SPUSD COVID-19 Compliance Task Force will email a list of every positive case to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
Grades TK to 2 were initially set to return to school in January, however state guidelines released on Jan. 14 postponed that reopening. Decreasing case rates have just recently made reopening a possibility.
The adjusted case rate per 100,000, an important measurement for school reopening, is currently 31.7 in L.A. County, down from 39.0 last week and 48.2 the week before. South Pasadena has recorded a total of 1,231 coronavirus cases and 38 deaths as of Wednesday, Feb. 10. At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the Department of Health Services for L.A. County, additionally noted that the county is currently experiencing a steep decline in cases following the post-holiday surge.
Ghaly also highlighted an article published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly two weeks ago that examined the costs and benefits of students returning to school. The CDC found little evidence that school reopenings contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases. Outbreaks that were linked to in-person instruction were primarily a result of crowded classrooms, exemption from face mask use, insufficient air conditioning systems, and school sporting events.
Many parents expressed their support for school reopening in public comments at the Board meeting, citing the negative impacts of distance learning as the major reason for their desire to see their children return to school campuses.
“I ask that South Pasadena reopen all elementary school grades as soon as possible. Our children have been home and out of school for almost a year now. They are sad and resigned to a Zoom routine that makes them [increasingly] less passionate about learning and ever more lonely. Their education is lagging behind and their social interactions have been on an indefinite hold,” Chiara Daraio, an elementary school parent, said.
Although community members largely supported reopening schools at the Board meeting, some public comments expressed concern about the safety of resuming in-person instruction.
“Our family would like to return to normalcy as much as anyone else; however, I implore the district to roll out a feasible vaccination plan for all teachers and employees before bringing the children back,” an anonymous commenter said.
SPUSD recently partnered with USC’s Keck School of Medicine to offer vaccines to all school employees once the doses become available. L.A. County is set to expand vaccinations to essential workers, including teachers, in two to three weeks.
The Board assured those worried about the safety of reopening that the district has been very thorough and cautious in devising its plan.
“We’ve been listening to experts and scientists — it’s very clear that we can have children in the classrooms and do it in a safe way,” School Boardmember Dr. Michele Kipke said. “We’ve had the [L.A. County] Department of Public Health come out and [health officials] agreed that we have a [comprehensive] plan in place to ensure that it’s safe for both our kids and teachers [to return to school].”
The district has not released a timeline for grades 3 to 12 to begin in-person instruction, however the recent lift of the regional stay at home order on Tuesday, Jan. 26 has allowed middle and high school on-campus activities, like sports, to resume.