Amid protests over mask and vaccine requirements, LBUSD trying to educate parents ahead of fall semester

The start of the fall semester is two weeks away, and Long Beach Unified officials are gearing up this week to prepare parents for what to expect, while at the same time a protest is planned against vaccine and mask mandates enacted to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

A group called “Unmask Our Kids” said it will demonstrate before the Long Beach Board of Education meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The group and others have organized demonstrations around the Los Angeles area in recent weeks, after state and local school officials adopted policies requiring staff and faculty to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

A protest in Los Angeles Saturday turned violent, with one man hospitalized with stab wounds and two journalists saying they were attacked.

Meanwhile the district is trying to educate parents and students about the fall semester, which includes an option for remote independent study as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

Aug. 31 is the first time LBUSD campuses will be open to all students for full-day instruction since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

The LBUSD is offering an independent study option for the upcoming school year, and parents on social media have been clamoring for more information about it. The district is hosting an online webinar to answer the most frequently asked questions from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday. Interested parents can sign up here. The webinar will be livestreamed on the district’s Youtube channel.

On a livestream Q&A hosted by the city of Long Beach last week, LBUSD Deputy Superintendent Tiffany Brown provided a few updates on the district’s re-opening plan, reiterating that the LBUSD is not planning widespread testing for students at the moment.

“If school were to begin tomorrow we would not be surveillance testing,” she said. “But we will collaborate with the health department on that and continue to be in open dialogue.”

The LBUSD will require students and staff to be masked indoors, and although social distancing is not required by the state, Brown said the district has instructed teachers to spread their classrooms out.

“Distancing is not a requirement but we will be absolutely working to spread students as far apart indoors as space will allow,” she said.

Brown said a major message from the school district this year will be encouraging parents to keep their children home from school when they’re sick.

“This is not a time to come to school ill,” she said.

Vaccines are not currently required for students and are only approved for children age 12 and up. When they’re approved for children age 5 and up (likely at the end of this year or 2022), the state will make a determination as to whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccines for school attendance.

For parents considering waiting until the vaccine is available before sending their kids back to school in-person, there is some information available about the LBUSD’s independent study option, with more coming in Monday’s webinar.

Most importantly, the independent study option for 2021-22 is very different from the district-wide “distance learning” that took place last school year. While last year saw LBUSD teachers and students participating in online classrooms via Zoom, the independent study option will not feature day-long live instruction from LBUSD staff; it’s a different program.

“We’re not planning for a virtual option in lieu of in-person instruction this year,” Brown said.

Students choosing independent study will be unenrolled from their school and re-enrolled as a student at Beach Virtual Independent School. Students who enroll will not be able to participate in extracurricular activities like sports, music, or clubs. The district has also said those students are not guaranteed a spot in their previous school or program when they’re ready to return to in-person learning.

“The district will make every effort to re-enroll students in their prior placement should they choose to return to in-person instruction, but this cannot be guaranteed,” according to the district.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the school board meeting is Wednesday, not Tuesday.

City News Service contributed to this report. 

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