LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles Unified School District Monday announced only 7% of high schoolers, 12% of middle schoolers and 30% of elementary school children have returned to the classroom.

Robin Heilweil, 6, swings around with her kindergarten class at Kenter Canyon School in Brentwood during the reopening of playgrounds at early education centers and elementary schools across the district on Monday, May 3, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Unfortunately, the number of smiling faces we see on playgrounds differs greatly in schools across the Los Angeles area,” Superintendent Beutner said during his weekly address.

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The district said it had anticipated more than twice as many middle and high school students would return to campus based on a parent survey conducted earlier in the spring. To accommodate the anticipated number of students, LAUSD implemented extensive district-wide safety measures that included regular COVID-19 testing of all students and vaccines for anyone ages 16 and older when schools began opening last month.

“As students return to schools, patterns are emerging among families who have chosen for their child to return in person, and those remaining online,” Beutner said. “Elementary schools have higher in-person enrollment in more affluent communities.

“In high schools, we see the opposite,” he continued. “More students from lower-income communities [are] returning to school in-person than their peers in higher income communities.”

This could also be due to the fact that instruction for middle and high school students remains mostly online — even for those who attend in person.

Beutner also said he believes vaccine availability for younger children will also made a difference in students coming back to the classroom.

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“The availability of vaccines for children ages 12 to 18 is an important part of the path to recovery in schools,” Beutner said. “Ninety percent of the people on a school campus at any point in time are children. Herd immunity won’t be reached in schools or in the broader community until children are vaccinated.”

The district currently offers vaccines at 15 school-based neighborhood clinics. Beutner said doses will be made available to all students as soon as they become eligible to be vaccinated.

“Our aim is to bring access to the vaccine to every middle and high school in Los Angeles Unified as soon as we can,” he said.

He also continued to advocate for the need for more resources and funding to support students, especially those who have fallen behind in reading and math. According to the district, only 48% of children between kindergarten and third grade are proficient readers and only 32% are at the level they need to be at with math.

“That means almost 70,000 children need help now in reading and more than 80,000 children need help in math,” Beutner said. “We can’t reopen schools and just go back to the way things were.

“Out of crisis comes the opportunity to do what was once unimaginable,” he continued. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment to make things meaningfully better for the children we serve.”

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