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Students, Staff Safety is Top Priority, Say County Officials

Nov 10, 2020 12:43PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The safety of students and staff is paramount in any school reopening conversation, Los Angeles County officials told parents in a town hall meeting on Monday night.

And as cases have begun to rise again, with new cases averaging 2,000 per day in Los Angeles County, following health and safety guidelines is more important than ever if students are to get students back to school, officials said. 

The town hall featured Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health; Debra Duardo, Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools*; and Dawn Terashita, a medical doctor and public health specialist.

(*While Manhattan Beach has its own independent school district, there is also a county-wide Office of Education that is led by the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools.)

"Everyone wants to see children back in school; they just want to make sure they are safe," said Duardo. "We need everybody to follow the directives. If everybody is doing that, it will certainly allow us to bring students back to school faster."

Regional Openings Discussed

The panelists addressed several questions that have been top of mind for many Manhattan Beach parents. 

First, they spoke to the issue of why schools could not open based on zip code or region, if cases are low, rather than holding everyone to the same standard for all of Los Angeles County.

Ferrer emphasized that the counties needed to follow the state guidelines, which apply by county, not by local area.

"Our options are county-wide options," she said. "The state does not have us dividing up areas by cities, zip codes, or towns. One of the reasons it becomes problematic is because the people in your school community do not necessarily live in your neighborhood."

Ferrer continued: "The state has urged us all to understand that we all depend on each other as a county for safety. Even if in some communities if it seems low compared to other communities, there’s a lot of intermingling."

She added, "Every community in L.A. County is seeing increases in case rates...Just because your rate is lower - West side vs. East side, North vs. South - most of us are seeing an increase in cases right now. We should all get back to protecting each other."

Ferrer noted that one Los Angeles County school had nine COVID-19 cases after a group of students on a baseball team went to play in Arizona. 

"It's really setting us back in that school," said Ferrer. "I know how hard it is to ask this of everyone, but If the priority is for children to be in school, then some of the other activities have to be a lesser priority."

The Manhattan Beach COVID-19 cases have increased by 30 in the past two weeks, going from a (cumulative) total of 410 on Oct. 26 to 440 on Nov. 9.

Expanding to TK-6 Waivers

Officials also answered a question about the waivers allowing schools to open on a hybrid basis. While the state allows counties in the Purple Tier (like Los Angeles) to open TK-6 grades on a hybrid basis, Los Angeles County is currently only allowing waivers for TK-2 programs to open.

"In our county, we decided to be cautious and go slowly and first reopen schools for students in TK-2," said Ferrer. "We needed to make sure we could do this right and not actually increase cases. Everyone in that school building lives in a community and lives with others in their household. Whatever happens in the school goes back out into the community, and vice versa. We wanted to make sure we could do this well."

Duardo reported that the county is now approving 50 schools per week for the TK-2 waiver (up from 30). So far in Los Angeles County, she said, 233 elementary schools have applied for waivers, 74 schools have been approved, and another 60 schools are "in the pipeline" to get approved. All told county-wide, about 8,000 TK-2 students are back in school, along with 1,600 staff.

(Last week, Manhattan Beach was granted waivers for all five of its elementary schools to open TK-2 programs on a hybrid basis. Manhattan Beach Unified School District Mike Matthews said in an email to parents on Monday that the district expects to be ready to start the TK-2 Hybrid the week after Thanksgiving, with the first day being on December 1, 2020.)

Additionally, 1,500 schools across Los Angeles County have opened or are reopening for special needs students. A total of 75,000 students and 31,000 staff members are back serving those special needs, Duardo said.

Officials also noted that there would continue to be a distance learning option for students. That option would be available for students whose parents did not feel comfortable sending their children back to school, or for children who were being required to quarantine either because of their own sickness or the sickness of someone in their cohort or household.

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