Jill Baker

Jill Baker was named the next Long Beach Unified School District superintendent on Thursday.

Most Long Beach students won’t return to campuses until at least March 1 — nearly a year after in-person learning stopped amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Long Beach Unified School District, which had initially planned to resume in-person learning on Jan. 28, announced Monday, Dec. 14, that the recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations around Southern California prompted officials to push back a return to campus.

Southern California is currently under a new regional stay-at-home order, though the state left current guidance on reopening schools intact.

Under the new statewide order, school districts that have already begin in-person learning — including those teaching special-education students and those that have received waivers from their local health agencies to teach students from transitional kindergarten to second grade — may continue doing so.

LBUSD, which initially closed campuses in mid-March, has also not yet sought a waiver for TK-2 students.

But even once Southern California gets out from under that order, which would be Dec. 28 at the earliest, LBUSD would be unlikely to get the OK from health officials to bring students back to campus. That’s because the region would revert back to the tiered system that assesses how individual counties are managing the pandemic. Los Angeles County would still be in the most-restrictive purple tier — and it remains unknown when the county would move to the second, less-restrictive red tier that allows in-person learning.

“Local schools likely will not be allowed to reopen in January,” LBUSD said in its announcement. “If the new March 1 reopening date also is not allowed at that time, then the date will be pushed to April 12, which immediately follows spring break.”

Long Beach, along with all of Southern California and the nation, has been overwhelmed by a renewed surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.

Take, for example, intensive-care unit bed capacity. That’s the metric the state uses for its new stay-at-home order, with 15% the threshold below which the severe restrictions go into effect. Southern California’s bed capacity has consistently dropped since the state first announced the region fell below 15% on Dec. 4. As of Monday, the region’s ICU bed capacity was 2.7%.

Los Angeles County, meanwhile, has regularly broken records for new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the coronavirus — as has Long Beach.

The city on Thursday, Dec. 10, reported that its new daily case rate hit 63.8 per 100,000 people, a new record that followed Wednesday’s high of 50.3. The city’s positive testing rate also grew to 10.3%, up from 9.9% the day prior.

And Long Beach reported 480 more coronavirus cases on Thursday, pushing the total identified throughout the pandemic just above the 20,000-mark, to 20,088. Long Beach also reported two coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the city’s death toll to 290.

The Long Beach Public Health Department could not be reached for comment.

“We are seeing a record-breaking number of COVID cases, with hospitals being pushed to capacity,” LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker said in a Monday video. “Now state and local health data predict an additional surge after the holidays.”

Some parents across the Southland have organized to make a case to reopen schools, saying their children have fallen behind because of the remote learning model. Keeping campuses closed, they have said, also forces parents to stay home or make arrangements for the supervision of their children.

“Education leaders and staff here recognize the ongoing burdens that students, families and colleagues face in the distance learning environment,” the district’s announcement said. “LBUSD’s facilities are well prepared with the necessary equipment and plans to reopen campuses when the school district is allowed to do so.”

While campuses remain closed, the announcement said, the district will provide childcare where necessary and work with city health officials for waivers to bring back to campus the youngest students.

The country, meanwhile, saw the first wave of vaccinations on Monday. Long Beach, for its part, laid out its vaccine distribution last week. A total of 3,900 doses of Pfizer and 11,600 doses of Moderna vaccines are expected to begin arriving as early as this week.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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