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Everything We Know About LAUSD's Plan to Reopen Schools in April

A kindergarten classroom at L.A. Unified's Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Venice. Staff have removed furniture, toys and books from the room to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.
A kindergarten classroom at L.A. Unified's Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Venice. Staff have removed furniture, toys and books from the room to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. | Chava Sanchez/LAist
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The following article was originally republished March 26, 2021 through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Kyle Stokes

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 make 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.

The Basics

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 April 13. The next day, second- and third graders will join them. On April 15, the oldest elementary grades will join.
  • 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.
  • April 26: Middle- and high school campuses will reopen to all students.

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 the school districts in neighboring Long Beach, Pasadena and Compton.

L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (center), United Teachers Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz (right) and Panorama High School principal Joe Nardulli lead reporters on a school tour to show off safety preparations made to welcome students back in the spring.
L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner (center), United Teachers Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz (right) and Panorama High School principal Joe Nardulli lead reporters on a school tour to show off safety preparations made to welcome students back in the spring. | Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist

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's campus reopening agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers' union, did not cover special education services.

Students in special education should be back on campus on the same date as their peers, but as of right now, there is no detailed plan for how LAUSD will handle their return.

The union and district are still negotiating that plan. Both sides are confident that an agreement is coming soon.

A padlocked gate at Micheltorena Street Elementary School, an L.A. Unified School District campus in Silver Lake, on April 1, 2020.
A padlocked gate at Micheltorena Street Elementary School, an L.A. Unified School District campus in Silver Lake, on April 1, 2020. | Kyle Stokes/LAist

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.

An L.A. Unified School District student drops a nasal swab from a COVID-19 test into a tube during a demonstration at San Fernando Middle School on Oct. 16, 2020.
An L.A. Unified School District student drops a nasal swab from a COVID-19 test into a tube during a demonstration at San Fernando Middle School on Oct. 16, 2020. | Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist

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.

Signage from L.A. Unified sent to campuses meant to help enforce social distancing guidelines.
Signage from L.A. Unified sent to campuses meant to help enforce social distancing guidelines. | Chava Sanchez/LAist

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 Austin 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.

Desks spaced six feet apart in a classroom at Panorama High School in the L.A. Unified School District.
Desks spaced six feet apart in a classroom at Panorama High School in the L.A. Unified School District. The nation's second-largest school system hopes to welcome back middle- and high schoolers to campuses in late April. | Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist

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 Middl-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.

L.A. Unified School Board member Nick Melvoin has his temperature checked before a campus tour at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School on March 17, 2021.
L.A. Unified School Board member Nick Melvoin has his temperature checked before a campus tour at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School on March 17, 2021. | Chava Sanchez/LAist

Entering Campus

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 so often. The Daily Pass app also won't create a QR code for any student who has recently tested positive.
  • 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.

A daily health checks sign.
A daily health checks sign. | Chava Sanchez/LAist

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?
LAUSD is asking all students to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus in mid-April. After that:

  • As long as L.A. County is in the red tier of California's COVID-19 monitoring system (like it is now), under UTLA's agreement with LAUSD, the district will require all students and staff to take a COVID-19 test every two weeks.
  • If L.A. County enters the less-serious orange tier, LAUSD will test all staff, and at least 20% of the students who have chosen to attend classes in-person, every two weeks.
  • If L.A. County improves to the yellow tier, the district will test 20% of all students and staff every two weeks.

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."

Staff have wrapped a playground structure at Walgrove Avenue Elementary in caution tape.
Staff have wrapped a playground structure at Walgrove Avenue Elementary in caution tape. Current district regulations say students cannot use high-touch surfaces, like these structures, or balls and many recreation yard toys. | Chava Sanchez/LAist

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 $120 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" between different groups of students.

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.

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.

Inside an L.A. Unified School District classroom at Walgrove Avenue Elementary in Venice that's been prepared for students' return to campus in April.
Inside an L.A. Unified School District classroom at Walgrove Avenue Elementary in Venice that's been prepared for students' return to campus in April. | Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist

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?
Principals could really use the extra pairs of hands, so LAUSD is working on this. District officials are currently updating the online volunteer application and vetting policies for allowing parents to help out.

Under terms of the district's reopening plan, L.A. Unified will place hand sanitizer stations in every classroom.
Under terms of the district's reopening plan, L.A. Unified will place hand sanitizer stations in every classroom. | Chava Sanchez/LAist

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?

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