Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Classes resumed Aug. 15 for thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District students amid relaxed COVID-19 protocols that made for a far smoother entrance to campuses than last year, which saw long lines of students trying to meet testing and health protocols.
The start of school marked Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s first opening day as head of the LAUSD, and he visited a series of campuses and other district facilities to welcome back students and staff.
“I hope each of you are returning to school on Aug. 15 energized and ready for a new year after a refreshing summer break,” Carvalho said at his Opening of Schools Address last week. “Many of you undoubtedly traveled during the summer months to experience new sites, visit old friends or reconnect with family members after the pandemic lockdowns.”
Carvalho started the first day of school early, meeting with school bus drivers at 5 a.m. at the LAUSD depot on San Julian Street. He had an optimistic tone as the day unfolded.
“I’m feeling a great deal of excitement and hope,” Carvalho told NBC4. “We’re welcoming 560,000 kids, 24,000 teachers, 73,000 employees — this is the equivalent of waking up the sleeping giant from its summer nap.”
He said the district is focused this year on recapturing students who have been missing from classes in recent years, a problem compounded by the pandemic. Carvalho noted again that 50% of students last year were chronically absent.
“That cannot be the case this year, particularly when we talk about Black and brown kids, kids in poverty, English-language learners, kids with disabilities,” he told Channel 4. “They lost so much ground. Now is the time to accelerate. That’s why I’m talking to parents.
“You need to have your kids in school. Schools are safe, our protocols and protections are in place. Free breakfast, free lunch. Come to school every single day. This is the time. This is the moment.”
He insisted that schools are maintaining COVID protocols beyond those recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and said the district aligns with the county Department of Public Health. He also noted that virtually all district staffers are vaccinated, along with 82% of eligible students.
The district this year dropped its requirement for students and staff to undergo weekly COVID testing, although all students and staffers received at-home test kits to use prior to returning to classes. Carvalho said the tests will be distributed again next week, just to ensure there are not noticeable changes in virus conditions.
Mask wearing will still be only strongly recommended indoors, and the district’s COVID vaccination requirement for students remains on hold until at least next year.
Students also will no longer be required to update their health and testing status on the district’s Daily Pass system to access campuses each day.
The system will remain in general use, allowing students to upload the results of “response testing” or vaccination records. The system will also be used “to notify close contacts of a person who has tested positive.”
The Daily Pass requirements last year led to some long lines of students trying to check in at campuses on the first day of school, as the district worked through quirks in the system. Those lines were just a memory this week.
Carvalho was set to visit a variety of campuses throughout the day, wrapping up his day with a school assembly at Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, where backpacks and school supplies will be distributed. There also was an end-of-day news conference at King-Drew Senior High Medicine and Science Magnet.
Carvalho, who took over his post in February after 14 years as superintendent of the Miami-Dade County public schools system, vowed in his address last week to enact quick change — while conceding that issues of declining enrollment and difficult financial times are on the horizon.
“I know this is going to be a difficult year,” Carvalho said. “It has been several difficult years. But it will be especially challenging to right the course of an altered future while confronting the obstacles before us. I know you will correct the trajectory and then some.”