LBUSD delays school reopenings again; elementary students to return March 29

Despite an announcement from health officials this week that coronavirus cases have subsided enough that elementary students can safely return to campuses, the Long Beach Unified School District has pushed back its planned reopening once again.

Classroom instruction for LBUSD students up to fifth grade will resume on March 29, according to an LBUSD presentation given at Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting. Previously, school officials had said they would start reopening campuses March 1.

The presentation said classroom instruction would be on a hybrid schedule, meaning there would be a continued online component.

The LBUSD also announced a targeted reopening date of April 20 for middle schools, and a reopening for high schools on April 19 for seniors and April 26 for grades 9 through 11.

The state does not currently permit those grades to be on campus, and coronavirus cases in Long Beach and Los Angeles County must decline further before those campuses can reopen.

The decision of when to bring teachers and students back to class grew more contentious recently as the teachers’ union lobbied to have their members vaccinated first. The city has been prioritizing vaccines for teachers this week, with the mayor promising they would get their second doses before being expected to return to the classroom.

The district said Wednesday that 3,600 LBUSD employees would receive their first dose of the vaccine by the end of this week.

Despite many students’ grades plummeting during the pandemic, the majority of elementary school parents aren’t eager to have their kids back in class, even as cases of COVID-19 decline, according to a survey conducted by the district. Slightly more than half of parents said they would prefer to finish the year online, while 44% said they would send kids to classrooms.

Under the plan announced at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, elementary school parents and students will have a choice of whether to send their kids to class the Monday before spring break, or whether to finish the year virtually.

In order to open campuses, the district will also first have to meet an array of state-imposed safety precautions, including physical distancing, masking, adequate ventilation, infection control and a testing plan for symptomatic and asymptomatic students.

The campuses must also maintain fixed cohorts of students who interact with only their own class. The sizes of those groups would be dependent on maintaining 6 feet of distance among members.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week that if campuses follow the required protocols, schools “are not high risk settings” for COVID transmission.

As long as they’re approved by state and local health officials, schools can reopen a week after submitting their plans, according to Ferrer, who emphasized that each district or school will have to make the decision for themselves about when to welcome back students.

The ability to reopen K-6 schools came Tuesday, when Los Angeles County met the state threshold of having an adjusted average of fewer than 25 daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.

Kids in sixth through 12th grades will have to wait to return to the classroom until the county has fewer than 7 cases per 100,000 residents.

A video of the board meeting is available here.

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