The William S. Hart Union High School District will likely not return to campus until January, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said during the district’s governing board meeting Wednesday.
“I’d like to recommend to the governing board that the Hart district turn our attention to the next realistic potential date for partial reopening, and that would be the start of the second semester in January,” Kuhlman said during the meeting.
A January start date is not solidified, but Kuhlman said the district would continue to work with parents to give them a choice between whether their students return to campus whenever the district is allowed to have general education students return or allowing parents to have their students continue with distance learning.
No board decision was taken on the recommendation during the meeting as of press time.
The superintendent said the recommendation was based on the fact that Los Angeles County continues to be in the most restrictive classification in regard to COVID-19, and the reclassification to a lesser tier would still take weeks.
He added that even if the county managed to reclassify by Nov. 16 — the date the district had established as a final date for returning this semester — campuses could not be repopulated automatically, and the shifting of staff during the holidays and finals period would make a change to blended learning difficult.
“As eager as we are to safely welcome students back to campus, it does not make academic or logistical sense to do so in that period after Nov. 16,” Kuhlman said.
The small percentage of higher-needs students who have already returned to campus will be able to continue receiving in-person instruction.
Teachers and staff
The president of the Hart District Teachers Association voiced support for more transparency from the district as it relates to reporting instances of COVID-19 on campuses, during Wednesday’s governing board meeting.
When asked about multiple reports of COVID-19 cases Tuesday, Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell said he could only confirm that there had been at least one case, but he was not allowed to disclose where.
Since the beginning of the semester, teachers in the district have had the choice of whether to teach remotely from their classrooms or from home.
On Wednesday, HDTA President John Minkus confirmed Rio Norte Junior High School Principal Audrey Aspland sent out a notice to staff about contact tracing that was being conducted due to a COVID-19 diagnosis tied to the campus.
“We appreciate the continued and regular dialogue with the district into all matters, especially as dynamic this situation is,” said Minkus during the Wednesday night meeting. “As we have had one documented case of COVID on a campus, and other confirmations expected, there needs to be a similar level of transparency and communication with all members of our community.”
Minkus noted the current standards for COVID-19 disclosure weren’t considered adequate by most of the members of the teaching staff who contacted him with concerns. The county’s Public Health website lists locations with three or more confirmed cases tied to a specific location.
Minkus said he understood that the school district was following Los Angeles County Public Health Department guidelines, along with HIPAA rules, which limit the amount of identification an entity is allowed to disclose about a person’s health information. But he said the standards, from the union’s perspective, are “fairly weak.”
“The current guidelines for … contact tracing and sharing confirmation of cases is minimal at best,” said MInkus.
Minkus noted he believed a new law, Assembly Bill 685, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 17, is likely to address much of the concern. Under the new law, employers will have to inform all potentially exposed individuals — once a positive case has been identified — on a worksite, regarding any risk of catching the virus, according to the language in AB 685, which comes into effect Jan. 1. The law will require the places of employment to inform personnel who were exposed within one business day of discovery.
“The Hart district has never done things to the minimum standard, and should, as a model district, begin these protocols prior to the Jan. 1 date of enactment,” said Minkus. “The teachers want to be with the kids, but they want to do it if it’s safe. That’s the most important part.”