LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Venice High School buzzed with activity in the week before the first day of school, with teachers busily distributing textbooks and laptops.
But the face masks worn by all the staff members, who are being careful to stand away from each other as they talk, are just another obvious reminder that this first day of school — which is approaching fast on Tuesday — will be unlike any other as schools prepare to open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools across the country are struggling with reopening even as COVID-19 cases surge. Unlike some school districts that have reopened, only to close again because of new infections among students and staff, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner says he is committed to keeping campuses closed until they get the green light from the state to reopen.
“Not yet. Not until it’s safe,” Beutner said.
The district is working on providing childcare for teachers and is launching one-on-one tutoring for struggling students. But even with these efforts, Beutner says he is right there with parents who want schools to reopen.
“We want them back to school too. That is the best place for them to learn, it’s the structure in their day, it allows working families to go back to work,” he said. “We’ve heard so much about the impact this virus is having on essential workers. They need to be at work, we understand. But not until its safe and appropriate. And right now in Los Angeles, the case level of coronavirus about three times what the CDC would say is appropriate to reopen a school.”
The multiple ways the COVID-19 pandemic hit families hard was brought into stark view with LAUSD’s grab-and-go food drive. The district provided 53 million meals since schools shut down in March, and was the largest food relief effort in the country. But besides the lost jobs and food security, Beutner says students are under enormous amounts of stress because of the pandemic.
For now, students will start the school year online, and teachers will get the choice between teaching on campus or from home. For teachers who choose to work from campus, the district is working on providing childcare. The district is also working on a plan to provide free, one-on-one tutoring for students who need it most. But the goal of reopening is not the biggest challenge facing the district at this time.
“We need more support in school so we have counselors and nurses and librarians, in addition to classroom teachers, when students come back, to make sure they’re well taken care of,” Beutner said. “Today’s challenge is not a forever challenge. There’s a future and we’re going to get there and school is here to help and be a part of the answer.”