With LBUSD elementary students returning next month, what will school look like?

The Long Beach Unified School District announced at last night’s Board of Education meeting that reopening dates for its campuses have been pushed back again, but, unlike past targets, these dates carry more weight now that health officials have said elementary schools are officially cleared to bring kids back whenever districts decide to pull the trigger.

“Tonight feels pivotal,” said school board president Diana Craighead. “This feels like a new direction.”

This is the first time coronavirus case rates have declined enough in Los Angeles County for local elementary schools to get the green light for on-campus instruction. Nevertheless, the LBUSD has opted to wait until March 29, when it anticipates all elementary teachers and on-campus staff will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

So, with a return to campus for the city’s youngest students just a few weeks away, what will a school day look like? It will be different from the pre-COVID world.

How long is the school day?

According to the district’s School Opening and Safety Plan, students will return five days a week for a half day of instruction (two and a half hours a day).

For students currently attending the LBUSD’s distance learning in elementary school, the structure of the day will be somewhat similar, with a half day of asynchronous work at home, but with the half day of live Zoom instruction from a teacher now conducted on campus and in person.

Tests, masks and distancing

Students and staff will be masked at all times and will undergo temperature and health checks on the way into campuses. Desks will be spaced out 6 feet apart in the classroom.

Per the state’s guidelines, there will also be weekly tests for those on campus while the county remains in the purple tier—indicating widespread transmission of the coronavirus.

While there was social media misinformation circulating that coronavirus tests on campus would be the more-invasive nasal swab tests, the district emphasized during the board meeting that the tests used for children will be the less-invasive anterior nasal swab test, which only requires the cotton swab to go a half inch into the nose.

The details about where lines will be to conduct the screenings and other site-specific plans will be available in the coming days through individual elementary schools’ websites and principals, according to the district.

Do people want to go back?

According to a recent LBUSD survey, 44% of parents said they planned to send their students back to class. The parents who spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting were divided almost evenly on whether to go back or not.

Before its meeting, the board received 64 public comments via call-in messages. The board only played 17 of them for the public to hear, citing time constraints. Even that sampling revealed a wide range of thoughts on reopening, from teachers and parents who wanted schools to remain closed to parents expressing frustration that the reopening wouldn’t be more extensive.

Some pointed out that the two-and-a-half hour in-person instruction window was going to punish working-class families, who will have a harder time dropping off and picking up their students in person in such a tight midday window. Others said they were going to keep their children home because they didn’t want them getting the weekly nasal swab test.

What about middle and high school?

As it stands, the LBUSD plans to reopen middle school campuses on April 20 and welcome back high school seniors on April 19 followed by grades 9 through 11 on April 26.

Those dates, however, are dependent on coronavirus infections declining further. To reopen those campuses, LA County must fall to the “red tier” of coronavirus restrictions—something that requires the regions adjusted case rate dropping to 7 new daily infections per 100,000 residents. Currently, that number is 20.

The district also said that starting March 1, it will survey middle and high school parents about on-campus vs. distance-learning options for the rest of the school year.

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