BY KYLE STOKES/LAist
Originally published on March 26, 2021
UPDATED, April 7 — Brace yourselves, students and parents. Your L.A. Unified School District campus may be reopening in April for the first time in potentially 13 months, but the place won’t be quite the same.
You may be prepared for the now-familiar COVID-19 countermeasures — face mask requirements, social-distancing warning signs, hand sanitizer stations.
But are you ready for a kindergarten classroom without toys, books, counting buttons, a reading chair, or even a circle-time rug? Parent Chaka Forman wasn’t.
“This makes me sad,” Forman said as he toured the Venice classroom where his son once attended kindergarten. “This was a vibrant room full of life, color, activity.”
But he quickly added, “I’m sure the teacher in this room is going to do an incredible job with the constraints they’re under.”
We’re here to help you prepare for school life under the new constraints, too. Here’s what to expect when LAUSD campuses start reopening.
WHEN IS MY LAUSD CAMPUS REOPENING?
The week of April 12: A relatively small number of LAUSD elementary schools and early education centers will begin welcoming students back during this week.
- Kindergarteners and first graders will return first on Tuesday, April 13.
- The next day — Wednesday, April 14 — second- and third graders will join them.
- On Thursday, April 15, the oldest elementary grades will join (including sixth graders in LAUSD elementaries that serve sixth grade).
Here is LAUSD’s map of the 72 campuses that are reopening early. If your elementary campus is not on this map, it doesn’t reopen until next week.
The week of April 19: Most LAUSD elementary campuses and early education centers will reopen, with students in different grade levels arriving on a similar staggered schedule:
- Students in Grades K-1 will come back on Tuesday, April 20.
- Grades 2-3 will return on Wednesday, April 21.
- The remaining elementary students on April 22.
The week of April 26: Middle- and high school campuses will reopen to all students. Superintendent Austin Beutner shared the schedule:
By the time LAUSD begins its reopening process, many other local school districts will have, or plan to have, their elementary students back on campus — including neighboring Compton Unified and Las Virgenes Unified.
Already, school districts in Long Beach, Santa Clarita, Glendale, Rosemead, Downey, Norwalk and La Mirada have welcomed students back to campus.
HOW MANY STUDENTS WILL BE INVITED BACK?
Starting in mid-April, all of them — just not all at once. LAUSD campuses will run on “hybrid” schedules:
- In elementary schools, students attending in person will be invited to on-campus classes for a three-hour block every day, either in the morning or afternoon. When students aren’t attending classes, LAUSD will offer adult supervision from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on school days.
- Middle- and high school students will report to campus on alternating days: every other Monday and either Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday. Middle school campuses will also have adult supervision available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- In early education centers, children from ages 2 to 4 will attend in stable groups of no larger than 12 students.
IS MY STUDENT REQUIRED TO GO BACK TO CAMPUS?
No. Students can choose to remain in full distance learning mode.
WHAT’S THE RETURN-TO-CAMPUS PLAN FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS?
LAUSD recently reached a separate tentative agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles that covers the finer details important to special education students.
Students in special education are due to return to campus on the same date as their peers — though the agreement says students can continue to access specialized services and assessments remotely if parents agree.
The agreement also says that all special education teachers will be provided with personal protective equipment “appropriate to their job duties,” from clear face masks to medical-grade masks to plexiglass barriers.
Just before the agreement was reached, LAUSD posted its own FAQ for special education parents. Among other information, the document says LAUSD will continue to provide transportation for students whose special education plans (IEPs) call for it.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO BEFORE GOING BACK
DO WE HAVE TO LET OUR SCHOOL KNOW WHETHER WE’RE RETURNING?
Yes. LAUSD has been asking families to fill out this return to campus form at reopening.lausd.net. Fill out one of these forms for each child.
The district calls this a “survey,” but treat the form like you’re re-registering your students for school. LAUSD principals are using your answers to help assign students into “cohorts” and make other important plans.
If you do not fill out the form, LAUSD will assume your student is remaining in distance learning mode.
LAUSD originally set a March 19 deadline for these surveys. Since then, LAUSD has extended the deadline indefinitely — but stresses that families’ answers are needed as soon as possible.
CAN I CHANGE MY MIND? CAN I SWITCH FROM DISTANCE LEARNING TO ON-CAMPUS CLASSES, OR VICE-VERSA?
Yes: Every two weeks, LAUSD will give you the option to switch your students out of — or back into — distance learning.
That said, if you’ve already submitted your survey and are having second thoughts, LAUSD recommends you contact your principal directly. Principals say they’ll try and accommodate these changes, but understand: these reopening plans involve a lot of moving parts.
IS THERE ANYTHING MY STUDENT NEEDS TO DO TO PREPARE?
Yes. The week before returning to campus, your student must get a COVID-19 test.
You can schedule an appointment for a free test through LAUSD’s Daily Pass website at one of 42 different testing sites located on school campuses throughout the district.
You don’t have to get this test through LAUSD. You can get a test from another provider if you report the result within three days. But COVID-19 testing is mandatory. Students won’t be allowed to return without a recent test result on file.
IF I HAD A VACCINE, I’D FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE SENDING MY STUDENT BACK.
LAUSD recently announced plans to open 25 vaccination sites on its campuses. The sites will be open to “families with children in schools” from specific ZIP codes.
If you want to make an appointment through the district, call (213) 328-3958. You can also check out our guide to scheduling a vaccine appointment in L.A.
HOW ELEMENTARY HYBRID SCHEDULES WILL WORK
WILL MY STUDENT HAVE TO SWITCH TEACHERS OR CLASSES?
No guarantees. LAUSD has told principals to keep students with their current classes and teachers whenever possible. But the answer depends on how parents in your class answer the return-to-campus survey
HOW ARE SCHOOLS DIVIDING CLASSES INTO ‘A.M.’ AND ‘P.M.’ COHORTS?
Again, it comes down to your survey answers and the size of your teacher’s classroom.
Here’s an example: Let’s say “Ms. Perez” has 24 students in her class. Ms. Perez’s classroom can only hold a maximum of 14 students while abiding by the six-foot rule.
This means if no more than 14 of Ms. Perez’s students choose to return to campus, the entire class could stay together: Ms. Perez would teach 14 students in person in the morning, and 10 distance learners in the afternoon.
But if 15 or more of Ms. Perez’s students choose to return to campus, the class would have to be split up somehow. Perhaps Ms. Perez would teach two in-person cohorts, while the remaining distance learners would shift to another teacher. Or maybe Ms. Perez would take the distance learners, and the in-person students would switch classes.
“It’s kind of a weird catch-22,” said Walgrove Avenue Elementary principal Andrea Kittelson. At her school, the vast majority of students are choosing to return to campus, which puts distance learners at a disadvantage.
“The number one priority is maintaining the same teacher,” Kittelson said. “So the people who are choosing virtual are really nervous they’re not going to get their same teacher.”
In communities where most parents are hesitant to send their kids back, the dynamic could be reversed: opting to return to campus could make it harder to keep your teacher.
CAN I CHOOSE WHETHER MY STUDENT ATTENDS CLASS IN THE MORNING OR AFTERNOON?
No. As a general rule, LAUSD is scheduling in-person cohorts to meet in the morning — but for example, if an entire teacher’s class opts to return to campus, there will likely be an afternoon in-person cohort as well.
IF IT MEANS KEEPING A CLASS TOGETHER, COULD A TEACHER CHOOSE TO TEACH IN-PERSON AND OVER ZOOM AT THE SAME TIME?
District officials say it is possible — but it would have to be the teacher’s choice. The teachers union’s agreement with LAUSD specifically says the district can’t require teachers to instruct in-person and distance learners simultaneously.
THE CDC NOW SAYS ELEMENTARY STUDENTS CAN SIT THREE FEET APART. DOES THAT CHANGE HOW LAUSD IS REOPENING MY SCHOOL?
For now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s recent updates to its school guidance will not affect LAUSD’s plans for reopening schools.
LAUSD’s school board and United Teachers Los Angeles members have already voted on a plan based on the six-foot rule. Changing that rule would involve new negotiations and new votes — and UTLA has said the CDC’s change “erodes school safety guidelines.”
Union agreements aside, Superintendent Beutner has said he prefers LAUSD to “err on the side of caution,” but may push to switch to the three-foot rule before the fall semester begins.
HOW SECONDARY HYBRID SCHEDULES WILL WORK
HOW WILL MIDDLE- AND HIGH SCHOOLERS ATTEND CLASSES UNDER THE HYBRID MODEL?
Students who opt to return to campus will continue to follow their current distance learning schedule. But unlike in normal times, they won’t roam campuses, swapping rooms between classes.
Instead, they’ll continue to attend classes virtually — but from classrooms, not at home. (Some critics dryly refer to LAUSD’s model as “Zoom-in-a-room.”)
Students will report to their “advisory” (think: homeroom) teacher’s classroom and remain there throughout the day. Seated at desks spaced six feet apart, students will log into their individual classes and attend them virtually throughout the day.
At the front of the room, their advisory teachers will be on Zoom as well, leading their regular course schedules throughout the day.
In hopes of making the less-than-ideal situation work, LAUSD will provide noise-canceling headphones to each student. Students will also have 10-minute breaks between periods during which they can stretch and use the restroom.
WHICH DAYS EACH WEEK WILL MY STUDENT BE ON CAMPUS?
Middle- and high schoolers will rotate between attending two or three days per week.
The agreement gives schools some latitude to decide how to craft their calendar. At some schools, students might come to campus Monday-Wednesday-Friday one week, and Tuesday-Thursday the next.
Other campuses might choose to have students come in every other Monday, but otherwise stick to the same Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday schedule.
Whatever schools decide, students will attend on the same days as their classmates from their advisory class. (If you really want to figure out which days those are: look at your schedule. If you attend what LAUSD marks as an “H” advisory class, you’ll attend on one set of days. Students in “L” advisories will attend on the other days.)
WHY CAN’T LAUSD LET MIDDLE- AND HIGH SCHOOLERS FOLLOW A MORE NORMAL SCHEDULE?
If students followed a “normal” schedule — moving from room to room for classes, passing each other in the hallways — it would be much easier for one COVID-19 case to turn into an outbreak.
Schools could theoretically have students remain in the same classroom and have teachers move from room to room. But that would still involve re-working a school’s intricate master schedule; LAUSD officials decided this isn’t worth the hassle so late in the school year.
Beutner has acknowledged concerns about the plan, but says this is the best LAUSD can do for now while also maintaining stable cohorts of students.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY STUDENT ARRIVES ON CAMPUS?
To prevent crowding at entrances, LAUSD’s plan calls for schools to open multiple access points on each campus. Your school may even assign your student to a designated entrance. Once they get to school, students will need:
- A QR code from LAUSD’s Daily Pass. It must be printed out beforehand or displayed on a smartphone. Your student needs a new Daily Pass every day. To get a pass, students answer a short list of questions about their health in the last 14 days. Students who report having a fever, chills, difficulty breathing or other symptoms won’t get a pass and won’t be allowed into school.
- A recent negative COVID-19 test. LAUSD is requiring students who return to campus to get tested for COVID-19 every week — and will turn away any students without current test results on file. (More on that below)
- A facemask — they’re required on campus for all staff, students and visitors.
Students will show their QR code to an LAUSD staffer — or perhaps even a parent volunteer — who will also take their temperature with one of those no-touch thermometers.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY STUDENT FORGETS TO GET A DAILY PASS CODE? (…OR DOESN’T HAVE A DEVICE?)
Students can pass the Daily Pass health check verbally. The person staffing the school entrance will ask the same set of questions.
The district says that students without a negative test on file — or with a recent positive result — will still be prevented from entering campus and directed to a testing site.
MY STUDENT RIDES THE BUS — WILL THE BUS DRIVER CHECK MY STUDENT’S PASS?
The bus driver will ask the student the Daily Pass health check questions — basically: Do you have symptoms? Have you been exposed? And do you agree to wear a mask?
ABOUT THOSE COVID-19 TESTS — HOW OFTEN ARE STUDENTS SUPPOSED TO GET ONE?
Every week. In fact, if a student’s most recent negative test is more than a week old, the Daily Pass app won’t create the QR code students need to enter campus. The person staffing the school entrance will also turn students away.
If a student is turned away for lack of a COVID-19 test, a parent will have to pick them up — and will be referred to LAUSD’s nearest testing center.
By the way, under UTLA’s agreement with LAUSD, staff are also required to take a COVID-19 test every so often.
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GET MY STUDENT SO MANY COVID-19 TESTS?
After students return, Superintendent Beutner has said LAUSD plans to offer tests on each campus once a week: “Students will literally be tested at their desk.”
DAILY LIFE ON A HYBRID CAMPUS
IS THE DISTRICT DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT TO KEEP CAMPUSES CLEAN?
Yes. LAUSD has switched to using thicker air filters and has re-wired HVAC systems to continuously circulate air. The district has also spent to hire more custodians and purchase protective gear and cleaning supplies — all at a cost of $220 million.
The superintendent says some of those extra custodians will be given one task: clean every high-touch surface in a school “at least twice daily,” according to the district’s reopening protocols — and that’s at a minimum: LAUSD recently posted an FAQ promising to disinfect restrooms and high-touch surfaces “hourly.”
In fact, on elementary campuses, LAUSD’s agreement with the teachers’ union also calls for each classroom to be cleaned in the hour between the morning and afternoon cohorts.
LAUSD has shown off electrostatic sprayer machines that promise quick disinfection — but classrooms will be cleaned with good-ole’ fashioned squirt bottle products between student cohorts, district officials say.
Access to restrooms will also be limited, with urinals, stalls and sinks taped off to prevent crowding.
WHERE WILL MY STUDENT EAT?
The answer to this question is likely to vary by campus and by grade level.
Students will be given a pouch full of grab-and-go meals the days they are on campus. The kit will contain three meals, including cold foods they can eat right away and frozen items they can take home.
Middle- and high schools will set aside designated areas where students may eat.
In elementary schools many students will likely go home after their three-hour class period is finished. Students staying for on-campus supervision will likely have designated spaces for meals: for example, at Walgrove Elementary, Principal Kittelson said the outdoor lunch tables are ready — but she doesn’t know to what extent students will need to use them.
The UTLA agreement specifies that students won’t eat breakfast in the classroom, but the district will offer a breakfast item for early-arriving students between 7:30 and 8 a.m. A snack will also be provided for later-arriving students.
HOW HAVE CLASSROOMS CHANGED?
As you can probably guess: staff have moved student desks six feet apart. Bold labels warning “Do Not Sit Here” block off spaces at some tables. At each desk, students will keep their own box of supplies in a plastic baggie or bin. Rugs have been removed.
The impact in classrooms for younger students is the most striking: you’ll find no toys, no books, no button collections (for learning to count) and no play-kitchen in the classroom.
WHAT ABOUT RECESS: CAN STUDENTS USE PLAYGROUND STRUCTURES?
As of now, no — and balls and toys have been removed from recreation yards, too. But the district is facing some pressure to reverse this decision, especially since L.A. city and county playgrounds are open.
WILL PARENT VOLUNTEERS BE ALLOWED TO WORK ON CAMPUS?
Yes — some principals could really use the extra pairs of hands.
Principals may ask on-campus volunteers to help out with temperature checks at school entrances, assist in the front office; or serve as COVID-era hall monitors, “observ[ing] the school campus for social distancing.”
The district is also accepting “virtual” volunteers who can help out in online classes or breakout sessions.
Anyone looking to volunteer can fill out the district’s online volunteer application. However, LAUSD has encouraged prospective volunteers to check with the school first to see if they’re looking for help; the application process involves many steps, including getting fingerprinted and tested for tuberculosis.
The district has posted this flyer describing their volunteering requirements in more detail.
IS THERE ANY POLICY THAT PREVENTS CONTACT BETWEEN STUDENTS AND TEACHERS?
Local public health orders do require staff and students to maintain distance. When I asked, LAUSD affirmed that students must “[keep] six feet apart at all times.”
“We encourage the three S’s of Safety: screening, sanitizing, and social distancing,” a district spokeswoman said in an email.
COVID-19 ON CAMPUS
WHAT HAPPENS IF A STUDENT STARTS FEELING SICK?
If a student starts displaying possible COVID-19 symptoms at home, LAUSD will ask the student to remain off campus and isolate for 10 days.
Anyone with a fever of 100 degrees or higher will be stopped at the entrance and not allowed on campus.
If a student comes to school and only later starts feeling sick, LAUSD has asked schools to set up isolation areas — preferably outdoors — where students will be asked to stay until their families can pick them up (or until they can be sent to a doctor).
WHAT HAPPENS IF A STUDENT OR TEACHER IN MY CLASS TESTS POSITIVE?
Everyone must go into isolation or quarantine. The person who tests positive must “self-isolate” for 10 days; everyone exposed should “quarantine” for 14 days.
LAUSD officials say the goal of their COVID-19 testing program is to report results within 24 to 36 hours of the initial test — so in theory, they should be able to prevent a positive, asymptomatic case from coming to campus before school starts the next day.
But if there is on-campus exposure, schools have set up separate isolation and quarantine areas: isolation areas for the suspected positive case, and quarantine areas for anyone who might have been exposed.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
- School Reopening Survey
- Daily Pass (get a campus-access QR code or schedule a COVID-19 test)
- LAUSD’s Family Reopening Guide
- LAUSD’s Official Return-To-Campus FAQ
- LAUSD’s COVID-19 Containment Plan
- LAUSD’s Return-To-Campus Deal With United Teachers Los Angeles
- LAUSD-UTLA Deal: Specific Info For Early Education Centers
- LAUSD-UTLA Deal: Specific Info For Elementary Schools
- LAUSD-UTLA Deal: Specific Info For Middle- And High Schools
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2021 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.