Eleven months after the state closed our schools, and we are sneaking up on one entire year, lost.
We understand why the schools were closed; a deadly virus was spreading, and it seemed like the prudent thing to do, along with temporarily closing businesses, restaurants and bars, and prohibiting large gatherings for things like football games and concerts.
We get it. We really do.
But here we are, a year later, and the fate of an entire generation is hanging in the balance. Distance learning is a stopgap. There’s a cost-benefit analysis to be done, and at this point, the cost of keeping schools closed outweighs the benefits.
Kids need to be in school. Now. Before the setback they are enduring does any more permanent damage.
Untold numbers of parents share our frustration. We hear from them all the time.
“Why won’t my kid’s elementary school district reopen? What about the high school district?”
The short answer is, even if our local educational leaders, board members and teachers wanted to get back to in-person learning, it’s not their call.
Our kids and our schools are being held hostage to COVID-19, courtesy of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Local schools, at present, can’t bring students back on campus without violating the state’s health order — other than a few limited exceptions for special-needs cohorts and some schools that have received waivers for students only in transitional kindergarten through second grade.
To get the schools open, in short, the decision has to come from the top. And it should.
On Friday, the L.A. County supervisor who represents the Santa Clarita Valley — Kathryn Barger — sent a letter to Newsom asking him to do just that.
“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,” said Barger’s 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 current orders, any school that had not applied for a TK-2 waiver, or had received a waiver but not reopened before Jan. 14, would have to wait to reopen in-person instruction for any grade until the case rate in L.A. County falls below 25 per 100,000 people per day for five consecutive days.
Furthermore, no schools in the county may open for in-person instruction for grades 7-12 while the county remains in the state’s “purple” tier.
To get out of the purple tier, L.A. County’s “adjusted” case rate must fall below seven per 100,000 population per day — about 700 — for 14 days.
You know the last time that happened? April.
The last time L.A. County even fell below seven cases per 100,000 population for even a single day was in October. And that was an anomaly.
But, the case rates are dropping. Vaccines are being distributed, albeit at a pace that would make a glacier proud.
Slowly, though, it is happening, and corners are being turned.
Many details need to be worked out — including negotiations with multiple teachers unions, some of whom may make excessive demands, like requiring all students to be vaccinated before return. But schools have safely reopened in numerous places elsewhere — why not here?
Said Barger’s letter to Newsom: “The safety of reopening classrooms has been well-documented worldwide and is supported by the Centers for Disease Control. California remains one of the only places in the world where the vast majority of schools have remained closed – causing detrimental impacts for children and their families. They cannot and should not have to wait another day to get back to school.”
Barger is right. Too much is at stake for the future of the children of L.A. County and our community.
It’s time for Newsom to clear the way for our schools to reopen.