Long Beach area school officials said Tuesday, Feb. 16, that they were still figuring out how and when to open campuses, a day after Los Angeles County announced that many schools could be cleared to open for in-person instruction for grades six and below as early as this week.
County officials said Monday evening that the drop in case rates could permit elementary schools to reopen, setting off discussions and meetings as local school administrators and staff sorted through what will be needed to take the next steps. Under state rules, elementary schools can reopen when a county’s adjusted case rate hits 25 per 100,000 people or below. Average daily case rates in L.A. County reached 20 per 100,000 people as of Tuesday.
But districts must submit plans to the county and state departments of public health confirming that the campuses have implemented sufficient safety measures to permit a safe reopening, according to a county press release.
Long Beach Unified School District, the fourth largest district in California, announced in December that it had pushed its target reopening date from Jan. 28 to at least March 1 — and it was unknown on Tuesday whether the county’s announcement would change those plans. LBUSD must submit its reopening plans to Long Beach, as well as the state, because it has its own health department, city officials said.
The Board of Education “will discuss the timing of a phased reopening of in-person learning” at Wednesday’s board meeting, district spokesman Chris Eftychiou said, adding that “we should know more after that.”
The district had previously published some details about what reopening would look like, at least before the county’s case rate dropped. The district’s website, for example, says elementary students whose families select in-person instruction will be in class for 2.5 hours.
But with March 1 two weeks away, LBUSD and the Teachers Association of Long Beach appear at odds. The two sides have been at the bargaining table to find an agreement on bringing students and staff back.
The sides were recently at the bargaining table before the start of the school year, resulting in the district allowing teachers to work from home.
Chris Callopy, the executive director of the teachers union, did not return requests for comment Tuesday. But the association’s website has been updated regularly with posts about the pending return to in-person instruction, with one statement from last week questioning how the district could be ready to open campuses by March 1.
“Given the current level of ‘preparedness’ and the level of infections in the community, it is hard to see how families and school personnel can be ready to open ALL elementary schools on March 1, just 17 calendar days away,” the post said. “There is no need to rush. Miscalculations on safety may cause site closures and quarantines.”
LBUSD, for its part, has said students who return to in-person learning will “go through a daily health screening process” and will be required to wear a face covering, as will everyone on campus. Students will have their desks six feet apart. And students and staff will be tested for COVID-19 weekly.
At a board meeting earlier this month, LBUSD Deputy Superintendent Tiffany Brown said that no students were being forced back to school.
“We’ve heard a number of parents expressing concerns about a return to school,” she said. “I just want to reiterate for the community that the potential return to in-person instruction is a family choice. It’s a choice that could be made. We will maintain a virtual option.
“You have a choice in the matter,” Brown added, “and we recognize the sensitivity surrounding all of the things that families are planning for right now.”
Mayor Robert Garcia had said in a tweet Monday that all Long Beach K-2 teachers, early childhood educators, librarians and staff would be vaccinated by the end of this week. The district would then move onto K-5 faculty and staff soon after.
The teachers union, in its post from last week, said it doesn’t seem as if the district could get employees fully vaccinated until April.
And in a separate Facebook post, the union said getting appointments remains a challenge.
“It is important for the public to understand how difficult it is for teachers to get appointments for the (coronavirus) vaccine,” the Facebook post said. “It is either going to be a very busy four days for teacher vaccinations in Long Beach, or the K-2 teachers in LBUSD will not be vaccinated by the end of the week.”
Staff writer Hunter Lee contributed to this report.