In less than two weeks, K-12 schools within Los Angeles County can resume limited on-campus learning for students most in need after monthslong closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health officials announced Wednesday.
Schools received the greenlight to provide assessments and/or specialized services on campus grounds as soon as Monday, Sept. 14, but only for students with individualized education programs, or IEP, and English learners.
They will only be able to do so “as long as the school is able to fully implement the health officer’s reopener protocol. This will get children who are in the most need of in-person learning back into the classroom,” said county Health Officer Muntu Davis during a live broadcast.
While updated protocols for reopening had not yet been publicly released Wednesday, officials said schools that will provide said services are required to maintain small group cohorts of no more than 12 students and two supervisors.
“We will not be opening the waiver program for instruction of students in grades TK-6 as we monitor the implementation of this effort to safely get students needing specialized in-school services back at school,” Davis added.
When it is demonstrated that these limited activities may proceed safely, ”we may consider at that time expanding the number and categories of students who can receive on campus services,” Public Health officials said in a statement, adding that the same consideration would apply for the elementary waiver process.
The announcement follows the William S. Hart Union High School District’s July decision to adopt a 100% distance learning model for the start of the 2020-21 fall school year. Officials agreed to revisit the blended-learning approach five weeks into the semester to discuss returning to in-person instruction — a plan that would have cohorts of students visiting campus on alternating days and working from home on the days they’re not on campus.
An on-campus return for students with special needs first was an idea Hart district board President Linda Storli said Wednesday was on the table months prior.
“The first thing we thought of in March was about the students who we feed, who are homeless and who have special needs,” she said. “Kids with special needs have to socialize and be with other kids, as well as English learners because learning a language on the computer is not the same as in person. I think starting with special education is good.”
While she expressed support for the county’s move, Storli said she wants “to return to as normal as possible and as safely as possible.” She had spent Wednesday at Valencia High School to brainstorm with teachers how they would rearrange their classrooms in a safe manner guided by the health protocols.
Wednesday’s announcement, coupled with the news that hair salons and barbershops could now continue indoor services at 25% capacity, comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new blueprint for reopening counties’ economies based on case and positivity rates.
Most California counties, including L.A. County, fall under the state’s Tier 1 for having a “widespread” risk of COVID-19, a category that prohibits in-person instruction unless schools receive a waiver from their local health department for TK-6. The county’s latest school update, however, is covered under the state’s small cohort guidance, according to state Public Health Department officials.