Schools Brace For More At-Home Learning

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LOS ANGELES — The recent announcement that LAUSD schools will be closed this fall due to COVID-19 concerns finds teachers scrambling to improve online instruction while concerned parents and students prepare — reluctantly, in some cases — for another semester of at-home learning.

The announcement also has some parents worried about academics during school closures, largely due to challenges with engaging and supervising students. Inglewood parent Sultanya Smith said previous school closures meant less help was available for her daughter and other students.

“The kids were left to figure out stuff on their own without the assistance they would normally receive in the classroom,” said Smith, a beauty shop owner who still had to find ways to work to support her family. “Parents are at home and having to work as well so not able to keep up with everything.”

LAUSD parent Janelva Williams said she was hoping schools could reopen this fall, but said she understands the challenges.

“I trust they made the best decision for what they had at the time,” she said. “From what I see they are staying closed due to a lack of resources and it’s sad to see.”

Her daughter Maddison, a fifth grader at Westside Neighborhood School, said she was hoping to see her friends in person again, but understands why her campus will remain closed.

“It’s stopping the virus from spreading,” she said.

Citing the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Southern California, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced July 13 that schools would be closed at least through January.

“While the new school year will begin on Aug. 18 as scheduled, it will not begin with students at school facilities,” he said

“The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise.”

Beutner made the announcement despite recent suggestions from President Donald Trump that the federal government might withhold funding for districts that fail to open campuses. In a televised interview July 14, Trump called continued school closures in the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts a “terrible decision.”

“Because children and parents are dying from that trauma, too,” Trump said of the closures. “They’re dying because they can’t do what they’re doing. Mothers can’t go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers.”

Beutner, however, challenged the federal government to allocate money to schools for testing and contact tracing, which he said are critically needed for schools to reopen. He said the cost at all public schools in the nation would be about $15 billion for 50 million students.

In LAUSD schools, meanwhile, Beutner said the challenge will be striking the “right balance” between three objectives: the learning needs of students, the health and safety of the total school community, and the impact the virus is having on working families.

The district has drafted a list of expectations, technologies, training, communications and more to help improve the way online classes are conducted. Those plans include ensuring all students have the devices and internet service needed to access their schoolwork.

The district also will implement more training for educators, students and parents to help everyone prepare for the required change in instructional methods and tools. LAUSD schools also will offer support such as after-school tutoring, including for English language learners and students with disabilities.

More teachers and teaching assistants working and connecting with students daily will help provide the personal attention that was largely missing at many schools in recent months, officials said.

Some sites also will offer recreational activities such as virtual field trips and physical education. Teachers will have more training in using tools like Zoom and Class Dojo. And they should be in touch more with students.

“One thing mandated is teachers must maintain some kind of contact in some way, shape or form,” said Christiane Townsend, principal at Crescent Heights Early Education Center. “They can post, email, Zoom, call.”

Grace Nyenke contributed to this story.

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