On Feb. 16, officials from the L.A. County Department of Public Health (Public Health) announced that all elementary school campuses in the county could reopen for in-person instruction, effective immediately. The announcement came after the county coronavirus infection rate fell below an adjusted rate of 25 new daily cases per 100,000 residents for five consecutive days–meeting the reopening threshold. On Feb. 16, the adjusted case rate for L.A. County was 20, marking the first time in nearly a year that all elementary school students in the county were eligible to return to campus. The adjusted case rates must fall to seven cases or below per 100,000 in order for middle and high school campuses to reopen, however.
A safe return to the classroom requires face masks to be worn at all times in school by students and staff; smaller class sizes; an isolation room in place should someone on campus become symptomatic; multiple exits and entrances; contract tracing; temperature checks and daily health screenings; taping over water fountains; sanitizing and disinfecting schedules; contingency plans for full and partial school closures; 10-day quarantine requirements due to travel and more. Students in grades TK-2 must be assigned to stable groups–cohorts of up to 14 students and two supervising adults–that maintain stable membership and do not mix with other groups.
The size of each stable group is dependent on the available classroom space to allow for the optimal six feet of space between all students and staff.
The Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) has thus far made great strides in preparing for a return to classrooms. The district has provided the county with a safety plan that includes protocols for the prevention and containment of COVID-19 spread on campuses. Public Health has conducted site visits and approved the BHUSD reopening procedures. Each campus is outfitted with safety equipment and appropriate signage to ensure social distance.
Elementary parents in the BHUSD received a questionnaire this past week, asking them to choose from three different options going forward. Those options each come with attendant conditions and include the following scenarios:
“A. I want my child to stay with their current teacher. It does not matter if they are virtual or in-person, I want my current teacher to teach my child;
B. I want my child to move to in-person learning even though they may not stay with their current teacher;
C. I want my child to stay with the current virtual learning model, even though their teacher may change.”
The district has already received hundreds of responses to the questionnaire and expects to report on the results by next week.
Another step taken by the BHUSD is to provide staff with the requisite 10-day official notice to return. “In anticipation of the rapidly decreasing Adjusted Case Rate, BHEA leadership was sent the 10-day notice last Friday. This does not necessarily mean we will reopen in 10 days; it is the minimum required notice period. There are many steps we are undertaking to reopen schools, a date to reopen has not yet been established,” BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy told the Courier.
One additional challenge still to be ironed out is that a final agreement must be reached with labor partners. Contract negotiations with the Beverly Hills Education Association (BHEA) are ongoing, specifically in regard to the Adjusted Case Rate appendix within the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).
Bregy explained this issue as follows:
“In order to reopen, we will need to manage a number of additional factors. One of these is to continue the conversations with our labor partners to change the Adjusted Case Rate appendix within the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). I want to draw your attention to the circumstances at the time at which this MOU appendix was negotiated. In December, before the significant increase in cases, the State and County both asked us to follow their “purple, red” tier system where safe school reopening was defined by an Adjusted Case Rate of 7 or below. This has now changed to 25 for elementary stable cohorts. Accordingly, our MOU negotiated in December, states that TK-2 teachers will return when the Adjusted Case Rate reaches 10 (well above 7) and grades 3-5 when the Adjusted Case Rate reaches 7.”
He added, “We have and will continue to work with our labor partners to bring students back to in-person learning, for those families who are interested, as quickly and safely as possible.”
Additional Reporting by Ana Figueroa.