Back-to-School Beginnings and COVID-19

with LA County Board of Supervisor Kathryn Barger & LA County Office of Education Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo

Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

EMS week’s briefing on March 11 hosted by LA County Board of Supervisor Kathryn Barger focused on the re-opening of elementary schools with Superintendent Debra Duardo. As COVID-19 cases decline and hospitalization numbers plummet, Los Angeles County has hit a state milestone for allowing schools to reopen. Supervisor Kathryn Barger said LA County is the most diverse one and it is imperative for us to engage with all the residents through Ethnic media.

L.A. County is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to the following groups custodians and janitors public transit workers airport ground crew workers certain social workers who handle cases of violence and abuse foster parents who provide emergency housing for young people.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the nation, which serves more than 600,000 students announced this week that it reached an agreement with the teachers’ union United Teachers of LA (UTLA) to reopen in-person instruction throughout its K-12 schools soon. There are extensive safety requirements that schools must follow as part of those safety plans, including social distancing, masking requirements, sufficient ventilation and testing programs. Preschool and elementary students would return in mid-April. Middle and high school students would follow at the end of April.

“During the past year we have witnessed a significant academic, social and emotional decline in our students,” Barger said, adding that now, she feels that schools are more prepared to return instruction to the classroom. If proper mitigation measures are in place, like social distancing, masks, hand hygiene, contact tracing for any infections, it is safe to open the schools, said Supervisor Kathryn. “I’ve seen remarkable efforts from our school districts throughout the county that have developed and implemented robust calls to keep students, teachers and staff safe and healthy,” Barger said. Most of the teachers, kids and parents have welcomed the reopening. Distance learning has been an academic disaster for many English learners, and for students with disabilities.

Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez briefed on the LA county COVID situation and vaccination eligibility.  The case rate is now less than 700 positive COVID-19 cases per day, the lowest since April. But just because the county is experiencing a downtrend in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths and vaccinations are ramping up doesn’t mean the public should let its guard down in terms of public safety protocol, Gonzalez said. She urged the residents to mask up and practice social distancing. 

Please stay local during the spring break, added Gonzalez.  And even though the CDC has said that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without having to wear a mask or maintain social distancing, when individuals are in public we still emphasize that you should still maintain social distancing and continue to wear masking to continue to help us in LA County control the spread of the virus,” Gonzalez said. We are making good strides on achieving the commitment to delivering doses to the hardest hit communities across our county, said Gonzalez.

Dr. Debra Duardo, Superintendent, LACOE said this pandemic has disrupted students learning at all levels. “We should all be concerned about the trauma inflicted on our future workforce and we have to make sure we are accelerating learning when students come back,” Duardo said. 71% of our districts are open or planned to be open by April 15. We have been prioritizing staff that work on campus with students for the vaccine is critical as our districts work with their labor partners to safely reopen campuses. On March 11, LA school districts received over 88,300 vaccine doses. We are working really hard to plan for some other extended learning opportunities, added Dr.Duardo.

Since September, LA County has seen over 2,200 schools reopen for onsite learning for students needing specialized services and support, for grades TK through 2 and for childcare for school-aged children. Over 132,000 students and over 43,000 employees returned to on site school services and support. Outbreaks in schools that reopened were relatively rare as the protocols in place prevented significant transmission at school sites.