Long Beach Unified Board of Education members on Wednesday criticized a new waiver process that allows them to apply to reopen campuses to students who are in second grade and below.
Despite the Long Beach Health Department announcing earlier in the day that they would start accepting and processing applications from schools, the district likely won’t be jumping at the opportunity.
The LBUSD is currently planning on “phasing in” on-campus services for some special education students but is not looking at widespread in-person reopening. The board members felt that the waiver process as announced was flawed on a number of fronts, including that there were several stipulations placed on the school district involving testing that did not include city funding support.
“I have major issues with our city’s health department guidelines,” said board member Juan Benitez. “First off, without resources it’s very difficult to—with a snap of your finger—be completely prepared to bring back students … waving a magic wand and saying, ‘You can submit a waiver’ with no additional resources is very problematic.”
Among the other issues the board had with the waiver process was the requirement that there would be a letter of support from the school district’s labor partners, including the Teachers Association of Long Beach.
Benitez referred to that stipulation as “anti-union.”
“This is pitting public education against private education,” said board president Diana Craighead. “It’s really cutting us off at the knees because we have so many more requirements to meet than private schools. They don’t have labor partners with these required letters. This feels like taking a hit to public education, which does not help anybody in this community, not anybody.”
Top district staffers also outlined their position on the subject.
“There continue to be questions about why we’re not open,” said Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Brown. “It’s a simple answer, it might not be desirable: In the county of Los Angeles we are not able to reopen until the county has moved into the ‘red tier’ and been a part of that tier for 14 days.”
Brown was referring to the state’s monitoring system that grades how widespread the coronavirus is in a specific county. Los Angeles County is still in the purple tier and will have improve before entering the red tier.
At this point, the state, county and city have all said schools can take advantage of the waiver process to reopen campuses for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade, but Brown highlighted new stipulations the city is placing on the district before it’s granted a waiver. If the district wants to open some elementary schools, it would have to institute a flu vaccination program, a surveillance program for school operations to ensure compliance, and contact tracing training for employees, as well as testing.
Brown said the city did not offer financial support for any of the new requirements.
“The obvious question is: Are you going to do it?” she said. “This is exactly where we sit with it. We are in ongoing communication with our labor partners, and their support is required for this process.”
Brown said the district is currently serving 1,600 students in person through its Child Development Center, Head Start program, and Kids Club locations. There have been several instances where students in those programs have had to quarantine.
“We are learning from those experiences,” she said. “We have had several incidents of COVID exposures. They have not been substantial given the numbers we are serving, but we have learned each week.”
Several parents spoke in person or wrote emails asking the district to open its campuses, which Brown stressed was not currently an option. And while the city’s waiver application announcement might have looked like a ray of light for families struggling with kids at home, it appears the situation likely won’t change the Jan. 28 planned reopening for LBUSD campuses.
“Nothing changed medically from yesterday to today, except you can apply for a waiver,” said board member Megan Kerr. “We have a thoughtful plan around phasing in with a goal around getting our kids back in the classroom. I don’t know what to think about this waiver process other than it seems really divisive.”
The next meeting of the LBUSD Board of Education will be Sept. 21.
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