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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s next school year will begin Aug. 18, but students won’t be returning to their classrooms, District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday.

“While the new school year will begin in August, it will not start with students at school
facilities,” Beutner said. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise. The news about the spread of the virus continues to be of great concern.”

The superintendent said the five-month school closure has been the longest in recent history for the nation’s second-largest public school system, but the risk of widespread transmission is too great, especially since asymptomatic people can spread the virus.

“A 10-year-old student might have a 30-year-old teacher, a 50-year-old bus driver or live with a 70-year-old grandmother. All need to be protected,” Beutner said. “There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish.”

Students will continue their learning online, and schools will add one-on-one tutoring on Saturdays and after school, according to Beutner.

The announcement comes after Los Angeles County’s health director Barbara Ferrer told district superintendents to have plans in place to continue distance learning for “100% of the time” as the county’s coronavirus numbers spiked.

She said in a news conference last week that campuses wouldn’t be opening their doors to students unless they’re sure they can avoid an “explosion of outbreaks.”

“You absolutely would not want to open a sector when you thought that the result of the reopening could be an explosion of outbreaks within that sector, so we’re going to continue to be mindful of what our data is telling us,” Ferrer said.

United Teachers Los Angeles released a statement agreeing with the district’s decision.

“It was the right thing to close school campuses then, and it’s the right thing to keep them closed now,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said.”In the face of the alarming spike in COVID cases, the lack of necessary funding from the government to open schools safely, and the outsized threat of death faced by working class communities of color, there really is no other choice that doesn’t put thousands of lives at risk.”

Of 18,000 UTLA members surveyed, an overwhelming 83% said schools shouldn’t physically reopen in August, according to results shared by the union last week.

L.A. County has been experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The county has recorded a total of 136,129 coronavirus cases, with 3,322 new cases confirmed Sunday alone.

The superintendent said hundreds of students in just one of the district’s schools can have contact with another 100,000 people and risk a major outbreak.

Weekly coronavirus testing and contact tracing will help protect students and staff, but that would cost $300 per student and more funding is needed from the federal government, Beutner said.

“The cost of testing all at schools, maybe $15 billion, will help make it safer for all 50 million students and their teachers in public schools across the country,” he said. “But this is about something that can’t be measured in dollars and cents; it’s about creating opportunity for children.”

President Donald Trump has been calling for campuses to reopen, and he threatened to hold back federal funds if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week said the decision on reopening California’s schools will be made by local officials with understanding of the pandemic in their jurisdictions.

When schools do reopen, they will have to adhere to guidelines released Monday by the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The rules require all who enter school property to wear masks, screenings for coronavirus symptoms and classroom furniture being rearranged to allow for physical distancing.

“More detailed information about both online and at-school programs will be shared in
the coming weeks, with final plans by the first week in August,” Beutner said. “While the school year will begin without students at school facilities, our goal is to welcome students back to school as soon as it is safe and appropriate for us to do so.”