Smaller classes, 1-way staircases and handwashing schedules: L.A. County officials offer framework for coming school year

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California officials have hinted for weeks how different classrooms will look as the coronavirus forced all sectors to rethink operations during the pandemic. On Wednesday, L.A. County education officials offered a clearer glance at how the next school year may play out.

A task force of superintendents and other leaders from across the county’s 80 school districts, responsible for the education of about 2 million students, formulated a framework to serve as a guide for the 2020-2021 school year.

“What you would see is first of all, greatly reduced class size,” said Melissa Moore, superintendent at El Segundo Unified School District.

“Initially, we’re looking at anywhere from 12 to 15 students in a classroom, maintaining 6-foot social distancing,” she said. “All desks would be faced in one direction, students would be wearing masks and would be attending school in shifts, whether that would be in the morning, in the afternoon, a different group, or on different days.”

The 43-page document released by the Los Angeles County Office of Education offered recommendations that districts can use as a reference for when county health officials allow the reopening of classrooms. Each school, however, should implement measures that best fit its needs, the agency said.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education released this chart of recommendations on May 27, 2020 for face-to-face, hybrid and distance learning.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education released this chart of recommendations on May 27, 2020 for face-to-face, hybrid and distance learning.

The guide lists conditions for three modes of learning: face-to-face, in which instructors teach students in a classroom with social distancing and safety measures in place; distance learning, in which students continue to learn online; and hybrid learning, a combination of both.

The task force recommends in-classroom learning only when the following are addressed:

  • control of interactions, including at entrances, exits and hallways
  • health and cleaning protocols, including temperature checks, personal protective equipment such as facial coverings, sanitation and handwashing
  • adequate staff to monitor health and implement safety protocols
  • accommodation of physical distancing requirements
  • school transportation services, including for students with special needs
  • nutrition services while meeting food safety and physical distancing requirements

For campuses that open, the task force suggests staff and students wear facial coverings, and that schools ensure adequate supply for all.

Health office staff should also be trained and equipped with necessary personal protective equipment.

Schools should establish a pool of substitute health personnel, and identify timelines of home isolation for staff and students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

The guidelines listed a series of other best practices, including:

Use of facilities

  • establish a point of entry where health checks can be conducted
  • to limit foot traffic encounter, designate separate entry and exit doors and implement one-way halls and staircases
  • schedule restroom use and handwashing
  • install markings on the floor to illustrate physical distancing
  • ban shared use of small spaces
  • procure additional structures to expand classrooms and storage spaces
  • install hand sanitizer machines
  • installing plexiglass in front and health offices

Physical distancing

  • close communal spaces or make adjustments in cafeterias and other open rooms
  • schedule breakfast or lunch one class at a time
  • use of available outdoor space as classrooms when possible
  • establish occupancy rules, noting that a typical 960-square foot classroom fits one teacher and 16 students
  • place seats 6 feet apart
  • remove extra chairs and tables in classrooms and cafeterias
  • disinfect classroom between classes
  • use larger spaces such as band rooms and theaters for instruction
  • for younger students, eliminate circle time, teach proper hygiene and prohibit the use of shared materials

Click here for the full set of recommendations.

It remains unclear how expected deep budget cuts to education in California will affect how schools will operate.

A statewide guideline for schools is planned to be released in June, said Tony Thurmond, the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

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