State schools

Head of public schools praises LAUSD’s coronavirus reopening strategy – Daily News

  • As students return to school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner and LAUSD Board Chairman. Kelly Gonez joins dance teacher Carrie Dolin as she warms up with students online at Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks with students as they socially distance in the cafeteria at Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks with students as they socially distance in the cafeteria at Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner visits Jennifer Bankston’s English class as she teaches her students online at Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, 28 April 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner tours a classroom at Pacoima Middle School Wednesday, April 28, 2021 with Principal Simerjit Garcha and LAUSD Board Chairman. Kelly Gonez. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Students line up and go through Daily Pass and temperature checks upon returning to Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Students line up and go through Daily Pass and temperature checks upon returning to Pacoima Middle School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond speaks to a student in a restorative justice counseling class during a visit to Van Nuys High School on Wednesday, April 28 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond speaks to students in a restorative justice advisory class during a visit to Van Nuys High School with the Chairman of the LAUSD Board. Kelly Gonez and Sup. Austin Beutner on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond visits Peggy Shim’s biology class during a visit to Van Nuys High School with LAUSD Board President. Kelly Gonez and Sup. Austin Beutner on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond speaks online to students at Joseph Agruso’s Auto Academy during his visit to Van Nuys High School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • As students return to school, California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner tour Joseph Agruso’s Auto Academy at Van Nuys High School on Wednesday April 28, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

VAN NUYS >> State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday, April 28, that Los Angeles Unified is, in many ways, ahead of other districts when it comes to reopening schools after more one year of distance learning.

Thurmond, who joined LAUSD Schools Chief Austin Beutner on a tour of Van Nuys High School, noted that two schools serving elementary through high school students operated by the state Department of Education were unable to reopen only for primary school students.

“It’s a testament to this district, given its size and complexity, that it has been able to open schools at all levels,” Thurmond said. “It’s not easy. It’s a huge challenge. I think there’s a lot to learn from what we’ve seen here.

LAUSD, the state’s largest district with nearly 580,000 K-12 students, began welcoming students earlier this month. It first reopened elementary and preschool institutions, then did the same for middle and high schools this week.

While addressing a class of ninth graders at Van Nuys High School, where about 14% of students have enrolled in blended learning, according to the district, Thurmond said he came to find out what were the needs of schools that have taken in students and to see if there are lessons to be shared with other schools that have not yet reopened.

“In-person instruction is best,” Thurmond said. “We want to do everything we can to help people get back safely.”

LAUSD officials have struggled to convince more families to send their children back to campuses, with more than half of all students in the district choosing to learn online full-time.

In-person return rates varied from less than 20% in some schools to over 90% in others. Lower-income communities that have seen higher death tolls from the coronavirus and struggled to access vaccines have seen fewer students return to class. But even in more affluent communities with fewer COVID-19 cases, dissatisfaction with the in-person option, particularly at the high school level where students continue to learn mostly online, means that many families choose to stay full-time in distance learning.

Beutner expects interest in in-person learning to grow, noting that since all 61 elementary campuses welcomed students two weeks ago as part of the district’s first round of reopenings, there have been had an increase of about 10% in registrations.

And the district will continue to make adjustments, Beutner said. Late Tuesday, the district announced that elementary students can use playgrounds again starting Monday. Until now, play structures have been banned, but Beutner said Wednesday students now know the routines and know they need to keep their masks on.

“I think we’re going to continue to see a gradual increase in in-person instruction, in-person attendance, continuing through the summer,” he said. “By the time August rolls around, a full day for everyone back to school.”

Beutner recently said students at all levels could be back on campus full-time, five days a week in the fall. This could be achieved at the high school level by moving all schools to a block schedule where students take four classes each semester rather than the usual six or seven classes year-round. This would allow students to stay in smaller cohorts.

A change in timing, along with an anticipated increase in the number of people vaccinated against the coronavirus and a lower rate of transmission, could allow schools to reopen more fully, he said.

On Wednesday, Thurmond called COVID-19 vaccines a “game changer” and said students 16 and older who get vaccinated are helping schools chart a course toward reopening. But he said the state would not require public school students to receive the vaccine even if it were eventually to be approved for use in younger children.

“At the end of the day, it will ultimately be a family decision whether or not their children will receive vaccines,” he said. “Mine have done it, and I hope others will.”

Contrary to what some members of the public have said when calling school board meetings, LAUSD does not require employees or students to be vaccinated, although the district has opened a handful of school-based vaccination clinics and plans to open more in the coming weeks to provide residents with access to vaccines.