As the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase and some businesses are once again asked to close, Los Angeles County officials continue to prepare for the start of a new school year this fall, which they say will look much different.
“The virus currently rages on in our community, and we’ll need to do our best to protect our children, our teachers, and the many, many important people who make a school function and who educate our children,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “And some beloved aspects of the traditional school experience will not be possible right now if they require students and teachers to be in close contact with each other over extended periods of time.”
On Monday, county Department of Public Health officials released new kindergarten-through-12th-grade protocols created in collaboration with local educators, providing schools with a “roadmap” to help plan for reopening. Prior to the Monday evening online meeting, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which governs public schools in the city of Los Angeles and is one of the nation’s largest districts, announced it would not have in-person classes for the fall semester.
The forum with Public Health officials was announced Monday in an email from William S. Hart Union High School District spokesman Dave Caldwell about three hours before the 6 p.m. discussion.
At that meeting, Public Health officials met with all five superintendents from the Santa Clarita Valley’s school districts for a community forum, answering questions submitted by teachers and staff.
“Across this county, 10,000 children under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, so it isn’t that no children get sick, children do in fact both get sick and they’re both positive for COVID-19, and I want to make sure that that we all understand that,” Ferrer said.
That being said, some activities through the pandemic have been allowed to proceed, and Ferrer said that schools should be considered essential services.
“We know that young people learn best in the classroom engaged with their teachers and friends,” L.A. County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo said. “While we are eager to reopen schools, the health and safety of students, staff and families must come first.”
Most of the guidelines outlined Monday mirror those that were required of businesses given the green light to reopen, such as requiring face coverings and monitoring hand washing and hand sanitizing, with distance learning and remote events still primarily being used throughout the school year when possible.
“This may be a harder adjustment for some than for others, but we don’t have a lot of tools in the toolkit right now,” Ferrer said, referring to wearing masks. “The one thing we do know is that wearing that mask keeps respiratory droplets close to the person who would be emitting them and further away from other people. And it is a critically important step that we can take to protect others.”
Ferrer also said that team sports that don’t allow for physical distancing will not be permitted to start up again.
In addition, Public Health officials addressed the social and emotional aspect of COVID-19, as some anxieties are to be expected.
“We’ve got to have strategies in place to acknowledge all of the emotions that children are going to walk through that door with, some of which may be happiness for seeing their friends and their teachers who they love, (while) other feelings are going to be really mixed or fear,” Ferrer said.
Even so, Ferrer emphasized that just because guidance is being released, doesn’t mean that Public Health is authorizing schools to reopen for in-person classroom instruction, a decision which she said will be guided by the state and left up to each school district.
“We’ll be considering levels of community transmission and what the science tells us about the risks,” Ferrer said, “but for those schools who are going to reopen their campuses, they will need to adhere to the public health and safety requirements that are detailed in the protocol.”