CALIFORNIA—During a live-streamed town hall meeting on Saturday, May 16, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer mentioned that county officials are working on a plan to resume in-classroom education by this fall.
The discussion regarding schools began when Supervisor Sheila Kuehl invited Ferrer to the town hall meeting and asked a question on behalf of a public viewer who asked “combining schools at the same location is planned for the next school year. How will children be protected in schools when there might be double the amount of students on campus?”
Kuehl noted she knew Ferrer was in “constant contact with superintendents” from Los Angeles County and schools; the Public Health Director reiterated this several times.
“I think we’re really lucky here in LA County because we have so many talented superintendents and educators that all share the same vision as all parents do, which is: [the] school environment has to be as safe as possible,” said Ferrer. “While we are looking forward to having schools back in session in the fall, I know that we’re going to be working really hard with the superintendents to put in place as many protections as are possible, so that the [school] environments will be as safe as possible. And that means that some things may look different, and that everybody again will be asked to make some adjustments around ensuring the safety of teachers, staff, and students, and parents, of course.”
Classroom configurations may change, and Ferrer “can promise you that we can’t do a lot of overcrowding” since that “doesn’t make sense.”
Officials are considering developing a “hybrid model,” where some amounts of distance learning continue in the fall. Another possibility is a “cohorting plan” – separating students into small, isolated groups that do not interact with each other.
“We’re very much in favor of cohorting plans, which we try to keep a unit of students together – this is particularly possible on the elementary school level – and don’t have them mix with lots of other classes,” said Ferrer. “Again, it’s almost like you create a household – bigger than your normal household – but you create them as a unit and you don’t do a lot of inter-mingling. So again, trying to limit opportunities for there to be [a] spread [of the infection] and for there to be large outbreaks in those settings.”
Ferrer noted that serology testing – which is used to identify antibodies – will start in LA County. A first round was carried out several weeks ago, and it was discovered that about 4 percent of the population had likely “seen the virus,” but the testing program will now be expanded to include children too.
“Because as many people know, most children don’t get ill at all, but we have evidence from other places that children in fact get infected, and that children can infect others,” explained Ferrer. “So we really have to understand that dynamic as well, because if children are going to be these asymptomatic vectors of the virus, then we have to make sure that the [school] environments are very safe and that we protect each other in those environments, as we want to make sure that everyone has that opportunity for a high quality learning experience.”
Superintendent Austin Beutner will give an update for school communities at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 18. Items on the agenda include how students are engaging in their studies, and Beutner’s thoughts on the state budget and its implications for public education. He wants to “make clear what the impact of the state cuts in funding will have on children.” The update will be aired live and re-aired at 6:00 p.m. on KLCS-TV, and live-streamed on lausd.net and klcs.org.
The other school-related topic discussed during the town hall meeting was about how drive-in graduations are prohibited.