CDC says schools might be able to reopen, but LAUSD sees no end in sight for virtual learning

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Canyon Charter Elementary in Santa Monica offers COVID-19 testing for all students. Photo by Brian Hardzinski/KCRW

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner this week argued that teachers and other school staff must be vaccinated so in-person classes can resume sooner. The LA teachers union is taking it a step further, saying they can’t return to in-person learning until community spread also drops. The two announcements mean the majority of LAUSD’s 600,000 students may not return to school at all this academic year. 

Online learning has lasted nearly a full year, and it’s not working well for many district kids. LAUSD says elementary school reading levels are down 10% from last year, and more high school students are getting D and F grades. 

Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control released a new study that shows little spread of COVID if masks, social distancing and proper sanitation are enforced. Schools would still have to limit indoor athletics and extracurricular activities.  

The study tracked 5,500 students across 17 rural Wisconsin schools, and found only seven on-campus COVID cases (none among teachers). In total, the study found 191 positive cases — primarily off campus. 

Similar results could be found in Los Angeles if the same precautionary measures are used, says Alison Benda, a co-author of the CDC report. She’s a researcher and medical student at Medical College of Wisconsin. 

She says direct and transparent communication is key. “Developing a relationship and building trust is probably the most impactful thing that any single organization can do as we try to work through this very challenging … kind of times right now.”

Remote education: Learning gaps, technical difficulties, and sacrificing a favorite classroom activity 

Nearly a year into the pandemic, virtual instruction is downright difficult, if not impossible, says Jennifer Medina, national politics reporter for the New York Times. 

That’s due partly to the learning gap. “Gaps that already existed between wealthy children, white children and poor children, Black and Latino children are growing at exponential rates,” Medina says. “There's just an enormous loss of both learning and social interaction. [And] part of school is just getting to see and play with your friends.”

Medina recently sat in on kindergarten, middle, and high school classes, and witnessed difficulties educators experienced online. For example, some middle school students shut off their cameras on video calls, and kindergarten teachers dealt with poor internet connections and/or distracting background sounds. 

She tells the story of one teacher with 25 years of experience who ran into one obstacle after another, and was forced to end her favorite classroom activity: reading out loud. 

“She could not figure out a way to keep their attention to get through an entire book over Zoom. And that was something that she just cut out. It's a normal part of her day, every day in person. But now it doesn't even exist,” Medina says.

No teachers Medina spoke to were willing to return to the classroom, especially due to the current COVID spike. Parents and students didn’t expect to resume in-person classes either.

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