LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – While all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are still only taking online instruction, educators are trying to determine how best to bring students back to campuses for in-person instruction once they are given approval to do so.
In a briefing Monday morning, Superintendent Austin Beutner detailed that scheduling is one the major challenges which his district is weighing as it tries to prepare for the eventual return of students to classrooms, which L.A. County health officials has said will not occur before at least Nov. 1.
“We continue to plan for an eventual return to school when health conditions in Los Angeles make it possible,” Beutner said.
Beutner disclosed that there is a major concern with scheduling secondary school classes in a manner that keeps students and teachers safe.
“One challenge is to create a school schedule which balances the learning needs of students with the health practices we’ll need to maintain in schools,” Beutner said. “The issue will be most acute in secondary schools.”
The superintendent explained that with elementary schools, students are able to stay with the same teacher for the entire school day. So, for example, if in a class of 24, there are 12 students in the morning and 12 in the afternoon, along with a teacher and an aide, a cohort is limited to only 26 people in total.
However, middle and high school students take multiple classes, and teachers have multiple sections, which expands a single cohort exponentially in comparison.
“If the 12 students go into five other classes, and the teachers teach four other sections, then the health cohort can become effectively 250 or more people,” Beutner said.
If a coronavirus case were to occur in an elementary school cohort, only 26 people might need to stay home, Beutner said. But if a student or teacher tests positive in high school, then 250 people would potentially have to stay home.
“So, in effect, the smaller class size wouldn’t do as much to isolate the class risk in secondary schools,” Beutner said.
Beutner also provided an update on the district’s ambitious plan to provide coronavirus testing to all students and staff this year.
So far, almost 15,000 tests have been conducted among staff who were currently working on campuses and their children, who are in childcare programs at those schools.
Of the 14,867 tests conducted, only 26 people tested positive.
The testing program, which was first announced in mid-August, is designed to provide regular coronavirus testing and contact tracing to students and staff. It is expected to cost $150 million.
Once all students are back on campuses for in-person learning, whenever that may be, the district hopes on conducting about 40,000 tests per day. Testing will also be provided to household members of students or staff.
LAUSD has close to 700,000 students and nearly 75,000 teachers and employees working across 1,386 schools.
Meanwhile, attendance has predictably dipped this year. Average daily attendance for the first 18 days of school was at 93.4%, down from 97% last year, Beutner said Monday.
Earlier this month, the L.A. County Department of Public Health gave permission for K-12 schools to welcome back students with extra needs, including those studying English as a second language and those that “needing assessments or specialized in-school services.”
However, LAUSD has yet to allow for this and Beutner did not address it Monday.
On Aug. 28, California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new four-tiered coronavirus assessment system that will determine the process by which each county can reopen businesses and schools.
The entire Southland, except for O.C. and San Diego County, is currently under the worst level, purple, which measures the spread of coronavirus as “widespread.” O.C. has already given special permission for dozens of schools to reopen. However, all O.C. schools could receive permission to reopen as soon as Tuesday.
In a news conference early Monday afternoon, Newsom said there has been a decline in coronavirus numbers, calling it “real progress,” and hinting that several Calif. counties could be upgraded Tuesday from purple to red, or red to orange.
“So will the likelihood of more waivers being supported for our younger cohort of students and progress towards getting people back in in-person education,” Newsom said.