HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood High School is preparing for a fall semester of distance learning, after Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced July 13 that the second-largest school system in the country would not resume in-person learning, due to COVID-19.
Mary Reid, principal of Hollywood High, said that returning to in-person learning and preventing the spread of the coronavirus was too difficult at this time.
“We have to use our moral compass as our guide,” she said. “We don’t want a situation where we’re putting our students or staff at risk.”
While children are at lower risk of getting COVID-19, and tend to exhibit milder symptoms, little is known about the extent to which they spread the virus to adults.
A few days after the district made its announcement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in a tweet thread that schools located in counties on California’s COVID-19 monitoring list must not open for in-person instruction until their county has come off the list for 14 consecutive days.
Newsom also said in a tweet that districts should also prepare to resume distance learning if cases in their county rise again.
“The district should revert to distance learning when 25% or more of its schools have been closed due to COVID-19 within 14 days.”
“Learning in the state of California is simply non-negotiable,” Newsom said. “Schools must … provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they are physically open … or not.
“Our students, our teachers, staff and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons — social and emotional, foundationally — but only if it can be done safely.”
He added, “Safety is foundational, and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into the fall and we work our way through this pandemic.”
Under the guidelines announced by Newsom, in schools that are allowed to open, students and staff in individual classrooms will be sent home when a single case in the class is confirmed. The entire school will be closed if cases are confirmed in multiple classrooms, or if more than 5% of the school tests positive for the virus.
After discussing various options with the district, Reid believes that distance learning is simply the best option.
“I don’t want to be the experiment for safety,” she said.
Reid explained that returning to in-person learning would have been too much of a logistical challenge.
“Within the average square footage of a classroom we have here at Hollywood High School, which can be 1,000-1,500 square feet; safely, we could fit maybe 12 students into a classroom within the CDC guidelines, but we have some classrooms with 30-35 students,” she said.
With that option, however, the campus would not be able to accommodate nearly two-thirds of Hollywood High students.
Another option is to have scheduled learning sessions where students would come to campus on alternative dates. Some students would come in Monday and Tuesday for Session A and Thursday and Friday for Session B. Wednesday would be used to clean the campus. Even this, however, would be hard to implement in a school as big as Hollywood High.
“I think elementary schools could handle it better, but there are way too many logistics for middle and high school students at this time to keep everyone safe,” Reid said. “We need more money from the state and government to come back safely.”
For parents concerned about how their students are doing distance learning, Reid referred to the success that Hollywood High is seeing in her school’s distance learning programs.
“The programs we use, Google classroom and Schoology, have proven to be very effective in these times.”
Another concern is the mental well-being of students who have to stay home this year. Hollywood High School Assistant Principal Catrisa Booker explained that staff is available to support these students.
“We have A through G counselors who focus on the success of children who are maybe further behind in school work that are available and focus on students who are not on track to get over that hump,” she said. “We have psychiatric social workers available as well; whatever our students need to succeed is available, whether at home or in the classroom.”
Booker added that distance learning would not be forever.
“While I know parents are busy figuring out child care, just know it’s not forever, this is just now and when things get better, we will ease back to our routine.”
Debra Duardo, the county’s superintendent of schools, conceded that distance learning is not “ideal,” but the “health and safety of students and school staff must come first.” She vowed that schools are committed to providing quality instruction, but said, “It will not be easy.”
“We are deeply concerned about the large numbers of students who have not fared well with online instruction or have completely checked out,” Duardo said. “Most affected are our low-income and Black and Latino students, foster youth and other vulnerable groups. Far too many of our young people were already dealing with the negative effects of trauma, which have only been made worse by school closures and social distancing.
“If there is a silver lining, it is that L.A. County is 80 districts strong and we will work together to meet the needs of the region’s 2 million preschool and school-age children,” she said.
“We have to use our moral compass as our guide. We don’t want a situation where we’re putting our students or staff at risk.”
—Hollywood High Principal Mary Reid
By Kayla Rodgers