Parents uncertain about schools reopening, survey says

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District campuses are expected to reopen next month after being closed for more than a year due to COVID-19, but early survey results show that about half of families will be reluctant to return their children to the classroom.

The trauma, anxiety and very real concern about the virus isn’t going away just because a few politicians declare it’s time to reopen,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said in his weekly address March 15. “It will take time to heal and for the communities we serve to trust the government to protect them after the tragedies over the last many months.”

With a preliminary 10% of survey responses in from the families of 465,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school system, just more than half of parents said they will send their kids back to school for partial-day in-person classroom learning.

Overall, 51% of those surveyed chose the in-person hybrid option. By grade level, 62% favored returning to the classroom at the elementary level; 44% for middle school level; and 33% for high school.

District officials said the early survey results show a greater reluctance among parents who live in communities hardest hit by the virus, which also happen to be the same communities where people are struggling more to get by, Beutner said.

In less impacted communities — those with an average death rate of 117 per 100,000 and a vaccination rate of 19% — about 74% of families said they plan to send their kids back to the classroom for the hybrid learning model. In more impacted communities — those with an average death rate of 332 per 100,000 and a vaccination rate of 12% — the preference for in-person hybrid learning is 42%.

About 80% of the families served by LAUSD live in poverty, Beutner said, and three-quarters of them have had someone in their household lose work due to the virus.

What we are seeing so far reinforces the disproportionate impact the virus has had on many of the communities we serve,” the superintendent said. “The Los Angeles area ranks in the top five cities in the nation in COVID-19 deaths per capita. … More than three-quarters of the communities served by schools which are part of Los Angeles Unified exceed the local average, with some having more than 100% higher death tolls than the rest of the nation.”

Beutner said the preliminary survey responses paint an early picture of what the district can expect come mid-April now that the government has given the go-ahead for reopening and Los Angeles Unified has reached agreement with all of its labor partners.

We know the best learning for most students happens in a school classroom and the opportunity gaps for students from low-income families will only widen if they are not back in a school classroom,” Beutner noted. “This is an urgent challenge for all of us, not just schools, to see what we can do about this and do about it now.”

He emphasized that LAUSD is creating the safest school environment possible.

No school district in the nation has taken all of the steps Los Angeles Unified has to protect the health and safety of all in the school community,” he said.

The plan for reopening is a hybrid model at all grade levels, combining in-person and online instruction with students remaining in small, stable cohorts while at school to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The target for reopening schools remains mid-April for preschool and elementary school students, as well as students with learning difficulties and disabilities, and by the end of the month for secondary schools, depending on the speed at which employees are vaccinated.

Last week, all families were provided with Return to Campus Guides containing information on the health and safety preparations at schools, COVID-19 testing for students and staff, safety protocols and instructional schedules. Every school principal is expected to host meetings to review the plans, and there will be more than 40 community town halls across the Los Angeles area to answer questions.

Once families have a full understanding of the choices, Beutner said, they will need to decide whether their child will return to the classroom or complete the semester online.

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