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With school campuses expected to stay closed when the next school year begins, Los Angeles County is exploring using county parks and libraries as “alternative learning sites” for children.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday supported a proposal by Supervisor Janice Hahn to look into setting up the sites for students in unincorporated county areas while campuses remain closed.

“In the middle of this worsening pandemic distance learning is our safest option right now, but this is untenable for parents who can’t work from home and some of our most vulnerable families,” Hahn said in a statement. “We have been able to run summer day camps at our County parks safely this year despite the pandemic. I hope we can use a similar model to utilize our parks to provide safe, supervised spaces for kids to do their distance learning while they can’t be in the classroom.”

When schools closed their doors and students transitioned to online learning in the spring, teachers across the county noted uneven access to technology and internet access among their students.

The L.A. Unified School District found that fewer than 50% of Black and Latino middle schoolers participated in the school’s virtual learning platform, compared to 68% of more of their peers of other races.

“Despite all best efforts, there is a gap anticipated between what schools can provide and what families need, either in terms of technology and internet access, or supervision during the school day,” the supervisor said.

Hahn says she hopes the alternate sites could be a solution.

The parks and libraries have WiFi access, and librarians have already been supporting students with online homework help, reading activities and grab-and-go summer lunches, she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that counties on the state’s monitoring list for heightened coronavirus activity for more than two weeks straight can’t return to in-classroom instruction in the fall. LAUSD had already announced schools will be continuing with remote learning.

“Parks have been available to support our county families during this pandemic and are ready to fill the gap for parents who are integrating back into the workplace and looking for a safe, supportive environment for their children,” said L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Norma E. Garcia.

County officials have not yet detailed how they would keep staff and children safe from the spread of the virus.

United Teachers Los Angeles had agreed with the decision to keep L.A. campuses closed to keep staff and students safe as coronavirus cases surged in the county.

A union representative told KTLA she wasn’t sure how safe the parks and libraries would be. 

“I don’t know what kind of precautions are being taken in these public spaces,” UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye said. “Are they disinfecting? Is there ventilation? Is there social distancing?  I would not trust my own child to another place without…knowing all of the specific details.”

The Parks and Recreation and Internal Services departments, as well as L.A. County Public Library and the L.A. County Office of Education were told to report back in 30 days with a plan to staff, supervise and organize programming at the county sites.

“I know that this won’t be an easy fix,” Hahn said. “This have never been done before. But we are in unprecedented times and we need to meet them with unprecedented and creative solutions for our residents.”