Los Al High goes back to distance learning

Other campuses in school district remain in hybrid mode

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In-person instruction at Los Alamitos High School is being replaced with distance learning from Dec. 16 through January 13, 2021 due to “the current surge of the [coronavirus] across the state and within our region,” Los Alamitos Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Andrew Pulver announced in an email to district families on Monday afternoon.

Also, all extracurricular programs districtwide, including athletics, arts, activities and Los Alamitos Education Foundation (LAEF) programs will be suspended from the start of winter break through Jan. 19, 2021 to “reduce contacts between different cohorts of students.” Students are scheduled to be out of school for winter break Dec. 21 through Jan. 1.

LAUSD’s elementary and middle schools will stay in a hybrid in-person learning model.

The moves come as California and Orange County are setting records in the daily tally of coronavirus infections.

On Dec. 14, confirmed COVID-19 cases among LAHS students and staff climbed to 37, according to the LAUSD COVID-19 dashboard which shows active cases only. That represented about 1.3% of the LAHS in-person population. On Dec. 15, the case count had dropped to 26 LAHS students and 9 staff members or 1.2% of the 2,921 people on campus.

“While the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff at LAHS is still well below the 5% threshold set by the [California Department of Public Health] for closing a campus to in-person instruction, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of people who must enter quarantine because of close contact with affected individuals,” Dr. Pulver wrote and noted the quarantines have caused “disruption to our programs.”

Following state and county guidelines, LAUSD requires anyone who is in close contact (less than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with an infected person to quarantine for 14 days.

In an interview on Tuesday morning, Dr. Pulver said close to over 200 students and staff at the high school are under quarantine.

LAHS Biology teacher Drew Sells said this week that twelve percent of his in-person students are quarantined. That’s 16 out of 132 students.

“Whether there is spread at school or not, we need to upgrade the dashboard to include quarantining students as an accurate reflection of how often one positive case will knock a student who has done nothing to intentionally expose himself out [of in-person instruction] for two weeks,” Sells wrote in a text message.

Sells added students cannot always be spaced 6 feet apart in classrooms, even in the hybrid learning model, where half the students attend classes for a shortened school day.

Dr. Pulver said most campuses are able to space students 6 feet apart or more but that at the secondary schools where class sizes are relatively larger, it can be more of a challenge to create that distance.

Since September, all nine LAUSD campuses across Seal Beach, Rossmoor and Los Alamitos have been open in a hybrid learning model. All students and staff on campus are required to wear face coverings, students have their temperatures taken before entering classrooms, plastic shields are on desks and multiple social distancing measures are implemented “as much as possible.”

Other LAUSD students are enrolled in the online-only pathway called LosAl@Home.

Hybrid in-person instruction will continue at LAUSD’s six elementary schools and its two middle schools as Pulver noted “the numbers of COVID-19 cases and individuals required to quarantine at these grade levels are lower, and the benefits of maintaining in-person instruction are substantial.”

LAUSD did push back the tentative date to switch to full-time traditional in-person instruction on elementary campuses from Feb. 1 “to a point later in the Spring.” Dr. Pulver reported at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting that they are looking at possibly transitioning around Spring Break if conditions improve.

A total of 69 individuals across LAUSD campuses have current COVID-19 infections, according to the Dec. 15 update on the LAUSD COVID-19 Dashboard.

Dr. Pulver said there are no plans to include the number of quarantined staff and students on the district’s dashboard saying he does not know of any health agency that provides that data and said LAUSD’s dashboard includes current cases and percentages.

He said the district is focusing on “what is most important right now” which includes the heavy workload of contact tracing. He praised school nurses and principals who are tasked with the job of informing students and staff of a potential COVID-19 exposure and said some are doing it on weekends.

In his letter to LAUSD families, Dr. Pulver thanked everyone for their patience. “As we have said so many times over the past nine months, the pandemic is a constantly shifting challenge that requires us to be nimble and ready to adjust our operations to maximize the safety of our students and staff.”

He encouraged everyone to follow public health guidelines over the upcoming holidays including avoiding crowds and staying 6 feet apart from people that are not in your household.

Some off-campus gatherings organized by local families have sparked complaints among parents including an event scheduled for earlier this month advertised as a “Fake Formal” with more than 30 students invited. It was meant to replace the high school’s cancelled Winter Formal dance.

Marlys Davidson represents Trustee Area 1 on the LAUSD Board of Education which includes Los Alamitos High School. In an interview on Tuesday, she said she knows students, including her own niece who is a senior at LAHS, may be “missing out on memories that will last a lifetime” but she urged LAUSD families to be responsible. “If we play it smart we can get our lives back more quickly,” she said.

Davidson was named President of the LAUSD Board of Education after a vote by fellow Board members at Tuesday’s meeting.

She said she totally trusted the work Dr. Pulver and his team have been doing saying they are basing decisions on science. She called the decision to go to virtual learning at the high school “the right move right now” in light of the increase in COVID-19 and quarantine cases.

“I’m deeply concerned about the mental health and isolation of students, but looking at the numbers, we have to keep ourselves healthy until a vaccine is more widely available,” Davidson said. This week, health care workers across the country received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Davidson, a former teacher, also praised LAUSD teachers. “Our teachers are doing a phenomenal job to meet the needs of our students in a constantly changing environment and the quarantines only make that more difficult.”

Students who have to quarantine complete school work at home that teachers prepare for them, according to Sells.

Other school districts in Orange County are also moving back to distance learning as COVID-19 cases surge including at La Habra City School District and Brea Olinda Unified. There have been 810 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff at OC schools from mid-August to Dec. 5, according to tracking by the Orange County Health Care Agency.