Barger asks Newsom to reopen schools while local districts work to find answers

First-grade teachers, Samantha Iblings, right, and Kristen Chapman socially distance as the plan their lessons in a classroom at West Creek Academy in Santa Clarita on Wednesday, 020321. Dan Watson/The Signal

On the same day Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office asking for the immediate reopening of schools in L.A. County, school district officials reported their continued attempts to find answers for local families. 

In her letter sent Friday urging Newsom to immediately allow the reopening of TK to 12th-grade schools for in-person instruction within the county, Barger expressed her concerns about further delaying a return to school campuses. 

“It has been 11 months since the state closed L.A. County schools, and during this time, we have witnessed a significant academic, social and emotional decline in our children and youth,” Barger said about her letter. “I am urging Gov. Newsom to allow for the immediate reopening of schools to provide in-person learning, which is critical for the development of our school-age children.”

Under the state’s current guidelines, districts had until Jan. 14 to apply for school waivers that would allow for the reopening of applicable schools for their TK to second-grade classrooms. 

“However, the rules for the waiver program state that any school that had not applied for a waiver, or who had received a waiver but not reopened prior to Jan. 14, would have to wait to reopen in-person instruction for any grade until the case rate in Los Angeles County falls below 25 cases per 100,000 people per day for five consecutive days,” Barger’s office said in a news release about the supervisor’s letter to Newsom. “Furthermore, no schools in the county may open for in-person instruction for grades 7-12 while the county remains in Tier 1 (Purple Widespread Tier).”

In her letter, Barger asks that Newsom reinstate the plans that allow for schools that have completed the waiver process to open.

“The safety of reopening the classroom has been well-documented worldwide, and our children cannot wait another day to get back to school,” the letter from Barger reads. “While our youngest children have had the most difficulty accessing online education, impact has been felt by children of all ages.” 

The news of the continued tug-of-war between the county health and state health officials on Friday comes after a number of SCV school districts have made the decision to allow their small cohorts of high-needs students to return to campuses. However, the blended learning models they have developed over the last year, which allow certain groups of students coming to health-code-abiding campuses at alternating times, remain in limbo. 

The Castaic Union School District — which had already allowed for its small cohorts to return to campus Feb. 1 — voted to approve Feb. 22 as a new target date for TK to second-grade students to return to in-person instruction. Subsequent grades would follow in the weeks after that.  

Other districts have said that they are still awaiting news on the health policies moving forward and further discussion, due to things changing minute by minute.  

On Friday, officials from the Newhall School District and Saugus Union School District said they have planned upcoming meetings in the next few weeks to continue their discussion on figuring out when they’ll be able to implement their blended learning models. Both districts currently have cohort groups on school campuses, and Newhall School District officials said their dual-language students would be returning on Feb. 16. 

The William S. Hart Union High School District, however, stands apart from the elementary school districts and will need to see lower overall numbers before it can implement its blended learning model. Officials have said at previous governing board meetings that they will need to see the case numbers in L.A. County to drop to seven per 100,000 population before reopening their seventh to 12th grades, per the latest health guidelines given by the county and state. 

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