Confirmed coronavirus cases continue to decline in Los Angeles County, a trend that has made local school district officials optimistic about being able to offer in-class instruction at the elementary level, but any hopes for reopening campuses in the near future were dashed Wednesday by county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“At this point, [the Department of] Public Health will not be opening up our waiver process for schools,” Ferrer said in a statement. “We will be closely reviewing the guidance from the state and will be reviewing all options with [county supervisors] to ensure that schools are able to open as safely as possible for all children and staff.
“We do need to continue taking all of the steps that were taking these past few weeks so that our community transmission rates remain low enough for us to continue our recovery journey,” she added in the county’s update, “and a very important piece of that recovery journey is getting our children back to schools.”
The department on Tuesday reported a case rate of 196 per 100,000 residents in the most recent two-week span, and it appeared that maintaining that mark would give health officers discretion to grant waivers to school districts to permit campuses to reopen for in-person attendance, in accordance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines.
“I’m hopeful,” La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said Tuesday about that prospect. “Our plan for that goal is to finish writing our K-12 reopening plan. As soon as they post the elementary [schools] waiver, we’ll request it and get it written up and completed. We want to have it at the ready to file with authorities as soon as we get the go-ahead from the [LCUSD] Governing Board.”
Ferrer’s comments on Wednesday, however, seemed to put such optimism on hold. Nevertheless, L.A. County reported fewer than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time since the beginning of June, with 989 confirmations. The daily reported number of cases averaged nearly 3,200 per day from mid- to late July.
However, the county remains on the state’s coronavirus watch list as it failed to record fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 residents, one of six indicators set by the governor. Orange County was removed from the list on Sunday after meeting all safety thresholds and can have students in classrooms after Labor Day if the downward trend continues.
A news release from the public health department implied expectations should be tempered because “it is too early to tell if the county’s 14-day case rate will remain below 200, especially given [that] cases reported on Monday and Tuesday are typically lower than other days of the week.”
LCUSD staff members will negotiate working conditions with teachers and employees as soon as waivers are approved by the governing board and health officials. Sinnette said the district continues to refine its reopening plans and would enter the next phase with caution, starting with transitional kindergarten students through 2nd-graders and soon after allowing grades 3-6 to resume in-person instruction.
“We will do whatever is necessary and see if we can get [elementary school] kids back in a healthy and safe manner,” Sinnette said.
LCHS DELAYS SPARTAN CONNECT, EXTENDS OFFICE HOURS
The district’s plan to launch Spartan Connect, a mandatory meeting between a small group of students and teachers in grades 7-12 to build a foundation of teacher-student rapport amid remote instruction has been postponed, according to Sinnette.
Administrators made the call during a town hall meeting for the secondary school on Tuesday after hearing feedback from stakeholders. Some parents expressed concern about the amount of time students spend in front of a computer screen due to the district’s distance learning schedule, and felt that adding virtual meetings in the afternoon would be too much for them.
“We decided that we’ll wait and assess where we are with the pandemic and take a look at [Spartan Connect] at the end of the first quarter,” Sinnette said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the LCUSD sent families a revised schedule on Wednesday that will go into effect starting Monday, Aug. 31. Office hours were extended from 30 minutes to an hour and begin at 1:45 p.m. Teachers were also provided with a half-hour prep period starting at 2:45 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
Office hours on Wednesdays and Fridays will “include time for LCHS 7-12 club meetings and wellness checks by teachers, counselors, administrators and staff,” according to a document with the new schedule sent by the district.
The email also stated that “office hours are designed for students to reach out virtually to their teachers clarifying questions regarding subject area content and to seek individual or small group support.”
For special education instructors, office hours on Wednesdays and Fridays will include time for individualized education program writing. IEP meetings may be conducted during office hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
As for Spartan Connect, the initial plan was to launch the virtual small group experiences a few weeks after school began on Aug. 17. Students were to attend two 30-minute sessions on daily demand days — Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays — and two 40-minute sessions on block days, the other two days of the school week. District officials and administrators hoped to move the meetings to campus when health guidelines allowed it.
LCHS Principal James Cartnal said Spartan Connect would have “teachers working in small groups of 6-8, maybe up to 10, in order to do all the things that are really needed to promote classroom culture, to have teachers build rapport and have students feel school is not just being in a bedroom on a Zoom call.”