LIVE CHAT: LBUSD plans to offer mix of on-campus and online classes in the fall

When school starts up in the fall, Long Beach Unified administrators want to let parents choose whether their students attend on-campus classes, stick with online instruction or learn through a mix of the two.

“We’re in a phase in the district now of really trying to not think that we can avoid COVID, but how to manage in a COVID environment,” incoming Superintendent Jill Baker said during a live interview with the Long Beach Post today.

That means exploring ways to get back some normalcy while still managing the threat.

“It’s closer to what has been known as school,” Baker said.

Crucially, administrators have heard dueling concerns from parents, some who want to send kids back to class as quickly as possible and others who don’t want their children back on campus until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, according to outgoing Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.

“We’re getting the pressure on all sides,” he said.

To deal with that, the LBUSD is trying to build out more rigorous online options and come up with ways to spread out other students in classrooms where they can enforce social distancing.

“We’re exploring other spaces that we could use, and I guess to just be really up front, we won’t be able to bring every student back at the same time on the same schedule into classrooms,” Baker said.

LBUSD is developing a “matrix of opportunities” for students depending on what they and their families are comfortable with, according to Steinhauser.

The revamped online program will be graded and will look very different than the quickly assembled platform the LBUSD launched when it closed campuses in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The online curriculum must be robust enough to meet the district’s normal standards because there’s always the possibility individual campuses could be shuttered and classes canceled due to another outbreak, according to Baker.

“We will not be able to avoid COVID,” she said.

The LBUSD is trying to make this transition as it faces massive budget cuts because of the economic shutdowns caused by stay-at-home orders.

Just next year, LBUSD is expecting to lose $70 million from its budget.

“It’s devastating,” Steinhauser said.

The new world of schools could also come with more expenses. For instance, if health officials decide all students need to wear masks in class, it could cost the district $6 million a year, according to Steinhauser.

School officials are asking for help from the federal government to balance their budget, but they’re already looking at ways to slash their expenses in coming years.

“We’re cutting as we speak,” Steinhauser said.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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