Plans are not yet finalized for the upcoming fall semester at the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD). Parents are expressing their frustration with the situation, which is fraught with the unfolding complications of rising COVID-19 rates in Los Angeles County.
The BHUSD Board of Education will hold a meeting on July 21 at 2 p.m. to continue the discussion about possible fall learning options. The matter was most recently taken up at their regular board meeting July 14. That meeting came one day after Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the immediate temporary closure of a number of indoor business operations. The same day, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) released reopening protocols for K-12 schools in Los Angeles County.
The July 14 BHUSD meeting was set against the backdrop of the highly anticipated 13-page document from the county, intended to serve as a roadmap for safe reopening of schools. During the meeting, BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy explained what the fall might look like: face masks required for all students and faculty to be worn at all times in school; class sizes between 10-12 students; an isolation room in place should someone on campus become symptomatic; no schoolwide events; multiple exits and entrances; contract tracing; temperature checks; taping over water fountains; sanitizing and disinfecting schedules; contingency plans for full and partial school closures and more.
As for exact plans for the upcoming school year, Bregy said, “It doesn’t surprise very many people at all that we haven’t come out with a decision. It’s so emotional. We want to make sure that we get this right.”
On July 13, the Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts announced their determination of what is “right” for their campuses. Namely, their combined 825,000 enrolled students will not be returning to school, opting for remote-only learning this fall. Schools affected by the LAUSD decision include Fairfax High School, University High School Charter, Warner Avenue Elementary, Fairburn Avenue Elementary, Emerson, Community Charter, West Hollywood Elementary, West Hollywood Community Day School, Brentwood Elementary Science Magnet, Westwood Charter Elementary, Valley View Elementary and more.
Of the county protocols, Bregy noted, “These are not looked at as guidelines. These are what we are required to do.” The LACDPH order covers everything from social distance practices to workplace policies, infection control, communication and equity in delivery of instruction.
In June, BHUSD announced two options for students returning to school: a virtual learning option called the Independent Learning Center (ILC) and a hybrid learning option that combines in-school and online learning. The virtual ILC option remains untouched, incorporating the same platforms such as APEX (for secondary students), Goalbook, Seesaw and Google Classroom (elementary students). Following an onslaught of frustration from parents last week combined with low turnout for the ILC, Bregy indicated that the hybrid learning option would be amended to offer three instead of two cohorts for 4th-12th grades.
In a sea of uncertainties, one thing is sure: school will not look the same as it used to. When students go back to the physical classroom, hallways that they formerly socialized in between classes will be off limits. Lunch will take place in a designated classroom to the extent possible. Mingling will be limited to students within the same class. And there will be staggered access to lockers and locker rooms.
“We are starting this week with our think tank,” Bregy told the Board. “We’re actually in our facilities looking to see what it’s like for our students to walk from a drop off area, into the main school area and into our classrooms.” He noted that even returning in a smaller environment under the hybrid model, many challenges lie ahead in monitoring how students physically move throughout the school. Administrators are working to develop procedures, designating a hallway as one way versus another to ensure students do not need to cross one another to get from point A to point B.
Accompanying the protocols, LACDPH released a statement that read, “The protocols do not authorize schools to reopen for in person classroom instruction. School reopening will be guided by the state and by each school district’s decision on how to best configure learning opportunities during the pandemic, considering the levels of community transmission and what the science tells us about the risks. For those schools that reopen their campuses, they will need to adhere to the public health and safety requirements detailed in the protocol released today.”
Concluding his presentation, Bregy underscored that no matter what option is decided on for the fall, it’s only temporary. Regardless of what specific learning model is ultimately rolled out, the next step is to move all students and faculty back to the physical campus. “We know that’s going to happen. We want that to happen. We want to be sure that we’re ready, that whatever option we select, our immediate next step is to look at a phase-in approach so that we can move forward bringing all students back.”