Los Angeles Unified School District, which refused to open its doors until its teachers and staff could be vaccinated, inched closer to reopening on Monday as LAUSD staffers begin to be inoculated at vaccination sites.
Even so, LAUSD may not reopen soon. Members of United Teachers of Los Angeles, which is the designated union for educators in the LAUSD, will vote the first week of March on returning to campus unless certain conditions are met. These include LA County leaving the purple tier, full vaccination for all in-person staff and enhanced coronavirus safety practices and regulations within schools.
LAUSD will support its students and staff as schools begin the reopening process by providing increased access to vaccinations.
“Today, we are taking an important step toward reopening school classrooms by expanding our COVID-19 vaccination program to include all employees in Los Angeles Unified who are now eligible to have access to the vaccine,” said Austin Beutner, the Los Angeles Unified Superintendent, during an update to the school community. “Vaccinating school staff is a critical piece of reopening school campuses in the safest way possible.”
State and local officials confirmed on Monday that LAUSD will receive the 25,000 doses that Beutner asked for in order for elementary grades to reopen by mid April, which includes some of the K-12 school campuses in the USC University Park community.
As school districts strive to reopen schools, vaccine distribution across the county has been inequitable. Affluent and whiter neighborhoods have seen greater vaccination rates while areas in South and East Los Angeles have less access to vaccination sites. As a result, some schools in neighborhoods like La Cañada Flintridge have already begun the process of reopening, according to the LATimes.
The USC Family of Schools, which focuses on enhancing the educational experience of K-12 students, consists of 15 schools surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. Of the 15 schools, 13 of them are operated by LAUSD.
Rachael Derogatis, the principal of USC Hybrid High School and a USC graduate, said the school’s current online system hasn’t been a significant challenge for the school since students were already required to access their schoolwork online. However, issues with obtaining necessary protective equipment have created barriers for the school’s return to live classes.
“A lot of the PPE that we’ve been able to secure has been driven by the Ednovate network rather than Los Angeles as a whole,” Derogatis said. “We all know we’re going to need protective equipment when we return. At the bare minimum, we need to sanitize spaces and we know that we need masks.”
Although LAUSD is doing what it can to ensure its schools are reopened safely, schools like USC Hybrid High School, a 9-12 public charter school managed by Ednovate in partnership with USC, may need greater resources due to its location in South LA, where cases number higher than other parts of the city.
Derogatis’ concerns for safety are shared by Paulina Morales, a social science teacher at Synergy Quantum Academy, a charter high school located in South Los Angeles.
“Once I get the vaccine I will feel safe, but I’m not sure if it will be safe for the students,” Morales said. “I would be happy to go back on campus, but I also want to make sure it’s safe for students too.”
Morales said that having the support of the administration, as well as a clean environment would be the ideal situation for her to go back to teaching in person.