Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students in the Los Alamitos Unified School District will start the school year with distance learning when it begins on August 31.
But in-person classes with safety modifications could resume after Labor Day for some elementary school students if the district is granted a waiver.
“ … While the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) elementary waiver was submitted [August 13], it could take 14 or more days to be approved and that too is unsettling to have to wait to learn what the start of school will be at the elementary level,” LAUSD Superintendent Andrew Pulver wrote in an August 14 message to families explaining the decision to start with lessons online.
Students enrolled in the district’s online-only academic option, known as LosAl@Home, will engage in distance learning the entire year.
Routes to Reopening Schools
There are two routes to reopening schools in Orange County amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. One is by gaining a waiver to reopen only elementary schools. The other route, which would allow for students at elementary, middle and high schools to return to campuses, is for Orange County to be removed from the CDPH Monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.
As of Monday, there are 42 counties on the list. These counties cannot open schools and are limited in reopening businesses due to increased disease transmission among other metrics. Orange County has been on the list since June 29.
Schools and districts can submit the waiver to be reviewed by the Orange County Health Care Agency and the CDPH to allow elementary school classes to resume with heightened health and safety precautions.
If LA Unified’s waiver application is approved, classes at the district’s six elementary schools would resume in what’s being called a hybrid model where half of the students in a class have in-person instruction on campus for half of the day, while the other half of the class is engaged in learning at home.
Then they switch.
Measures such as mandatory cloth face coverings for staff and students third grade and above, plastic dividers on students’ desks and increased cleaning procedures are part of LAUSD’s COVID-19 safety plan.
Private Catholic school St. Hedwig in Los Alamitos has also applied for a waiver to have in-person classes when school starts on September 8, according to a statement on its website.
“We have completed the reviews of 10 schools,” HCA Director/Acting County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau wrote in an August 17 email. It’s not clear if St. Hedwig’s or LAUSD’s waiver application are included in the ten schools.
“As of this morning, no school application packets have been forwarded to the California Department of Public health,” Dr. Chau wrote noting that was because the state had been dealing with a backlog on test results that had frozen movement on some aspects of reopening plans.
An announcement later on Monday from California Governor Gavin Newsom reported a review of the backlog of nearly 300,000 tests resulted in an additional 14,861 COVID-19 cases statewide landing five more counties on the state’s monitoring list.
What about Middle and High School Students?
The only way for students at LAUSD’s two middle schools and Los Alamitos High School to return to classes on campus is if Orange County is removed from the state’s Monitoring list for two weeks straight.
For a county to be removed from the Monitoring list, the COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people must be below 100, among other factors.
“The only measure that still keeps us on the Monitoring list is the case rate per 100,000. We are currently at 117.9,” Dr. Chau wrote in an email message on August 17 saying there had been a trending down on the number and that he’s optimistic that the county will be removed from the Monitoring list soon.
LAUSD Learning Pathways
LAUSD families have been given two academic pathways for students — a traditional pathway, which will offer an in-person version of instruction with modifications to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and a 100% distance learning option known as LosAl@Home.
Families had to decide by August 17 the track they prefer. The commitment is for the entire academic year. LAUSD says it will issue a survey in December to see if families would like to transition from one pathway to another, but there is no guarantee it will be possible. “The opportunity for a student to switch between the traditional schooling pathway and the LosAl@Home pathway may be limited and will be solely based on enrollment and staffing availability within each program,” LAUSD said in a Frequently Asked Questions portion on its website.