After almost a year of virtual learning, Los Angeles county schools were cleared to fully reopen on Monday night.
Due to the dropping of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, County Supervisor Janice Hahn deemed it okay for the reopening, but this does not mean that Los Angeles Unified School District public schools will open any time soon.
For L.A. County schools to reopen and stay open, coronavirus cases have to average 25 cases or less per 100,000 residents, and L.A. County recently met this threshold.
Schools that choose to reopen have to submit a reopening plan detailing safety measures to permit safe reopening to both the county public health department and the California public health department.
LAUSD is the nation’s second-largest public school system, and fully reopening schools will be a complicated task. L.A. teachers and staff are in agreement that teachers and staff should be vaccinated before allowing students back into classrooms.
LAUSD Superintendent, Austin Beutner expressed his thoughts about California’s current vaccine rollout plan in an interview with ABC7 News.
“Making schools a priority also means vaccinations for all who work in schools,” Beutner said. “California is providing vaccinations for cannabis delivery drivers, but not school bus drivers and teachers. How does that make sense?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers considerations for reopening schools and how to keep them open: promoting behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19, preparing for when someone gets sick and maintaining healthy environments and operations.
Jamie Tarlov, a LAUSD third-grade teacher at Bassett Street Elementary in Van Nuys, says there is a misunderstanding about what this reopening means for LAUSD.
Tarlov explains that only children with special circumstances will be allowed back in schools.
“Some special-ed students will be returning to class because the amount of students in the classroom is so much smaller they’ll be able to social distance,” Tarlov said.
“Our union would never vote for us to go back right now. There is no way,” Tarlov continued. “Our union is pushing very strongly that until all teachers are vaccinated we will not be returning.”
Tarlov is in her 29th year teaching and is one of the senior teachers at her school. She does not feel comfortable teaching in person until she is vaccinated. Even after she is vaccinated she is nervous that she can still pass on the virus to one of her students.
Even without being in person for learning, nine of Tarlov’s students have already had coronavirus, and bringing kids back into classrooms makes risks even higher.
“I have had families [student families] where everyone in the family has it. I have had students out for a month with it,” Tarlov said.
Other school districts in L.A. County are preparing to open elementary schools for in-person learning shortly. Long Beach Unified School District has a plan to reopen elementary school sites as early as March.
Ty Smith, a principal at Powell K-8 School in Long Beach was not shocked at the county’s decision allowing schools to reopen.
“Of course there are concerns about figuring out all of the logistics about the situation, but I am not surprised because we have been preparing for this,” Smith said.
There are no current requirements for students and staff to be vaccinated before returning for in-person instruction, but LBUSD partners with the Long Beach Health and Human Services with goals to provide vaccinations to all staff members who wish to get vaccinated.
The vaccine rollout has been slower than expected, and not all Long Beach teachers and staff who want to get vaccinated can get the vaccine yet. With schools potentially opening within the next month, some teachers and staff have concerns about their safety and health.
“We had the initial impression that everybody had the opportunity to be vaccinated before we returned,” Smith said. “Since there is a shortage of vaccinations that is not the case anymore.”
LBUSD elementary students whose families choose in-person learning will not be in class like the normal traditional all-day school schedule. Students will be in class for about 2.5 hours, with the remainder of the day at home or with a childcare provider.
In the United States, the average school day for an elementary school student is about six to seven hours a day. With the new in-person school schedule, students will miss over half of the normal school hours.
“At some point students have to get used to being back in school,” Smith said. “When I log into classrooms [online] to observe, sometimes there are a lot of distractions in the background. So I think it is good that students can get that uninterrupted time in front of the teacher.”
Although Smith thinks it is good for students to have some time learning in-person with their teacher, she says there are still unanswered questions about students returning to school. Such as how student drop-off and pick-up will work, if there will be recess for students, what if parents work all day and cannot pick up their student at the desired time and more.