Cost of reopening Los Alamitos Unified School District could exceed $1 million

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Superintendent, Dr. Andrew Pulver displays one of the safety protocols to be adopted throughout the district, plastic “desk shields,” that provides students additional separation from other students. Courtesy photo

A far-reaching collaborative effort established by the Los Alamitos Unified School District shortly after the onset of the pandemic has created a multitude of reopening options that were presented to its board on Tuesday.

Decisions to be made by the district staff about students returning to campuses will be informed by and engaged staff, but also by a very engaged committee of more than 70 teachers and staff working in multiple working groups, Dr. Andrew Pulver, Superintendent, told the board.

Pulver summarized for the board  a detailed presentation made by Ondrea Reed, Director of Educational Services, at the board’s workshop before the actual board meeting.

He explained the many protocols and procedures being considering for reopening the schools.

“Mrs. Reed and our entire staff have come together to figure out the very best options for our kids,” said Pulver, which he said has resulted in three major options for fall instruction.

Like most systems, Los Al is planning three major options, including a traditional model (albeit adjusted for pandemic safety protocols), a hybrid model that alternates classroom instruction and remote learning and a self-contained remote learning option.

Pulver dicussed the ever-changing list of actions being planned for potential reopening scenarios, from management of traffic patterns, to face masks, desk shields, feeding changes, etc., noting the staff and working groups have studied almost any conceivable option.

Even as he presented the detailed plans, however, Pulver said the pandemic environment is so fluid that he reserved the right to make final decisions up until the first week of August. Schools will begin August 31, the board decided earlier.

Nevertheless, Pulver told the board that it will cost more than $1 million in additional costs for what they have planned, vowing “we won’t skimp on costs when it comes to opportunities for our students.”

Much of that cost, more than $500,000 was to purchase a robust distance learning project offered by Schools PLP. Reed said earlier that the special 72-member teacher task force took it upon themselves to review the most popular products available and recommended this software package for the system.

“A number of parents have already offered to help financially,” said Pulver. Traditionally, the parents of the Los Alamitos Unified School system voluntary donate to the system regularly, giving an unsolicited boost of more than $500,000 last year alone, according to board reports.

Nevertheless, he said the software will allow teachers to offer measured instruction online, and as well give the system back office monitoring capabilities to meet state standards.

Actually, Pulver and Reed resolved early after the first lockdown to radically improvement online instruction. What the system offered earlier was only “emergecy distance learning” the superintendent said.

He assured the board that the Schools PLP  package would allow teachers to maintain the Los Al curriculum standards as the software offers an infinite number of apps and aids for teachers, students and administrators.

Pulver outlined the three options, including a tempered and safety enhanced return to classrooms, a remote learning option, and a hybrid of both.

Pulver said Los Al now has a roubush option for  parents who choose to keep students at home.

Surveys indicate approximately 20 percent of parents are currently choosing online only, he said, but noted any student uncomfortable to return to the classroom can opt-in to remote learning at any point.

The scalability and complexity of the Schools PLP software offers teachers, and students, a wide range of options, he noted.

The superintendent also explained a range of safety protocols to be adopted throughout the district, including a $150,000 expenditure to acquire plastic “desk shields,” which is a three-sided made of a plexiglass type material enclosed that provides students additional separation from other students.

Holding up a desk shield, Pulver demonstrated the safety features and said one will be installed in desks throughout the district.

Board Vice President Marlys Davidson, commended Pulver, saying his refusal early to accept the easy way out “from the beginning” led to many options presented at this week’s meeting. “He was not satisfied” taking the easy way out, she said, praising the staff, teachers and everyone who are sacrificing their summers for the good of Los Al students. (see related story).

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order later in the week that tied reopening to county health info could prevent the physical reopening of school in several counties, including Orange.

The order just throws another uncertainty into the mix, said Pulver, who sent a letter of explanation to all Los Al parents following the Governor’s order/  Meanwhile, the superintendent said the working groups and staff will continue planning for all contingencies and will make final determinations in August. 

“We’ve pushed the start date to Aug. 31,” said Pulver, and “we will use every moment to ensure the safety of our children.”