More than 600,000 pre-K-12 students and their parents returning from spring break in Los Angeles today got some unwelcome news, as the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it would not be physically reopening schools for the remainder of the school year.
The announcement comes on the heels of the New York City district, which announced April 11 that school buildings would remain shuttered. Exactly what happens in New York City has become a major dispute between Mayor Bill de Blasio, who controls the schools and announced his decision to keep them, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said he will make the final call on any reopening of schools in the state.
Los Angeles Unified and New York City join at least 21 other states and three U.S. territories that have ordered or recommended that school buildings not reopen in the current academic year.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles has increased nearly 200-fold since the district first made the decision to close its schools, and while health authorities know a good deal more about the virus than they did just a few weeks ago, there remains no approved treatment or vaccine yet, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a recorded video.
“The path to reopening school facilities is not know at this time, despite any speculation you might hear,” he said. “We will not reopen school facilities until state and local health authorities tell us how it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
The district will finish out the year using remote learning. Last week, it reached an agreement with its teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, on the parameters of how that will work. Teachers will continue to earn full salaries, and will be expected to provide four hours of instruction and support to students per day (including planning, office hours, required professional development, and faculty meetings). They’ll also be expected to hold office hours.
The district also announced it will hold summer school in a similar manner, and high school seniors will participate in a virtual graduation for now.
Beutner also outlined the district’s grading policy for the remainder of the year: Students can work to improve grades but won’t have them penalized or lowered. And they can’t receive a failing grade. Those are strategies many other districts are also pursuing as they try to balance keeping high expectations for students with the realities of the digital divide and the trauma the pandemic is inflicting on students and their families.
The district also said it planned to craft some four-week instructional blocks in literacy and math at all grade levels, though it wasn’t immediately clear if those were in addition to regular summer school enrollment.
“Study after study tells us reaks in learning are difficult for students and in this crisis we need to find ways to change that pattern,” he said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.