Los Angeles Unified district to close all schools
By HOWARD BLUME,
MARCH 13, 2020
Los Angeles school officials on Friday announced that the nation’s second-largest school system will shut down its 900 campuses serving more than 670,000 student beginning Monday, citing concerns over the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
The closure is initially scheduled to last two weeks, but a firm reopen date will depend on the status of the outbreak.
“The public health crisis created by the coronavirus is not something any of us could’ve reasonably expected to happen and we are in uncharted waters as we work to prevent the spread of the illness,” said L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner.
San Diego Unified School District will also shut down, joining scores of other districts throughout the California and seven states where all schools have been closed, including Oregon, Ohio and Maryland.
One of the biggest concerns has been what would happen with students if schools are closed. Students not only face a potentially serious disruption in learning, but children from poor and low-income families also receive their weekday breakfast and lunch and, in some cases, dinner on campus. Also, parents rely on schools to provide childcare while they work — including first-responders, nurses, doctors and other emergency personnel who are likely to be needed to deal with the community medical crisis.
A key element of the Los Angeles coping strategy will be to open 40 “family resource centers” throughout the vast school system that will open Wednesday. These centers will provide childcare, educational activities and other services. They’ll also provide packaged meals. Beutner said a list of the centers will be provided before Monday.
As a public health precaution, all center visitors will have their temperature taken upon arrival and all students will be directed to wash their hands, Beutner said. The centers will be staffed by district employees on a voluntary basis, who will receive extra pay. The details on how employees will step forward and what they will be paid are the subject of ongoing discussions with district labor groups.
The district plans to provide training for those working at the centers Monday and Tuesday. The facilities will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are likely to be located at schools. Beutner said they will be tied, when possible, to community hubs that already had been identified as part of the district’s effort to decentralize into regional communities of schools.
Beutner said he hoped that local transit agencies would provide free transportation to and from these centers as needed, but nothing has been worked out so far.
In addition, the Los Angeles district will offer televised and online lessons in an attempt to help families. School district employees will continue to be paid, even if not directly involved in working with students.
“California has now entered a critical new phase in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a joint statement by Beutner and San Diego Supt. Paul Gothold said. “There is evidence the virus is already present in the communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread. We believe closing the state’s two largest school districts will make an important contribution to this effort.”
Some parents reacted to the news of the closures with apprehension.
Crystal Ellis, 34, stood outside of Raymond Elementary School in South Los Angeles on Friday as a light drizzle came down. She held a white package and an iPad that the school asked her to pick up for her 11-year-old son.
“It’s a little bit scary because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Nearby, an occasional parent rushed inside to pick up their children.
“Some parents are panicking and coming in to pick up their kids,” she said.
Veteran L.A. school board member and former state lawmaker Jackie Goldberg said that considerations about childcare weighed heavily in their unanimous decision.
Shaking her head as she spoke, Goldberg said the school closures were “probably the most difficult decision any of us on the board have had to make because it affects so many people and it affects so many children and it affects so many people who have jobs that they are fearful of losing if they have childcare issues.”
Teachers union president Alex Caputo-Pearl, who called on the district Thursday night to shut schools said all district leaders faces two “unacceptable alternatives”: keeping schools open during a dangerous public health crisis or closing them despite the lack of a social safety net for children and their families.
“What it shows is that this country, this city, this county does not have … the practices in place or the structures in place to support young people or workers,” he said.
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