LBUSD prepares for March 1 school reopening, though only 15% of employees now vaccinated

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The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education upheld its planned reopening date of March 1 for elementary schools during its Feb. 3 meeting, despite hearing objections from dozens of teachers and parents.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Brown said the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Jan. 14 guidelines allow LBUSD elementary schools to reopen when daily Los Angeles County COVID-19 cases fall below 25 per 100,000 for five consecutive days.  

The county’s current rate is 38 out of 100,000 compared to 100 cases per 100,000 three weeks ago, she said.

“Our adjusted case rate is declining rapidly,” Brown said.

The District told its elementary-school teachers and staff on Tuesday, Feb. 2 that it would continue with its plan to reopen those schools on March 1. 

See related storyConcerns swirl over LBUSD schools reopening, currently scheduled for March 1

It’s unclear whether LBUSD 7th to 12th graders can also physically return to campuses by then since the CDPH requires the county to be in the “red” or “substantial” virus-transmission tier for five days before that can happen. LA County remains in the “purple” tier of “widespread” transmission.  

Even if elementary schools reopen March 1, parents can decide whether to send their children back to the classroom or have them continue learning online remotely, Brown said. 

“You have a choice in the matter,” she said.

The District sent a survey to families of elementary-school students last month asking them to make that choice by Friday, Feb. 5 so it can plan for elements such as the number of teachers required to be on campuses as of March 1.

“So much of our planning around what happens next would be based on who chooses to physically come to school versus who chooses to remain virtual,” Brown said. 

Dozens of parents and teachers urged the Board to delay reopening, citing safety concerns for their families, low vaccination rates and lack of information, which one teacher called “dumbfounding.”

“I need to feel safe,” one teacher said. 

“Don’t use elementary students as guinea pigs,” another parent and teacher said.

Mariela Salgado, a parent and Long Beach Parks and Recreation Commissioner, said opening schools prematurely would disproportionally endanger communities of color and lower-income households that are often multigenerational.

Several Spanish-speaking parents also said they objected to a March 1 reopening, with some condemning what they called lack of information and communication from their Board representatives. 

“Why the hurry?” yet another parent and teacher asked, asking the Board to wait until more employees are vaccinated before reopening. Another teacher noted it takes six weeks for vaccines to become fully effective once received.

Superintendent Dr. Jill Baker said only 1,500 out of 10,000 LBUSD employees have been vaccinated so far due to a countywide vaccine shortage. The District is vaccinating not just teachers but school custodians and meal providers, she said. 

Brown said that though the District plans to make vaccines available to all staff – and are encouraging them to get vaccines through any means possible – some are choosing not to be vaccinated. 

“There is no requirement that vaccines be in place for our reopening,” Brown said of State guidelines. 

However, Brown said the District is working to meet CDPH’s requirements for school reopening, including weekly COVID testing of all teachers and students, health screenings, use of face coverings, desks spaced six feet apart, students formed into stable groups or pods, fixed school entrances and exits, and all staff trained in COVID-19 prevention practices. 

LBUSD will work with a State-recommended vendor to provide the weekly tests, Brown said, adding she expects relief-funding to cover their cost.

Board Member Dr. Juan Benitez said the District should share more information with parents, including what in-person instruction will actually look like. The District should also be concerned with returning students’ social and emotional well-being, he said. 

“Many of them are coming back with trauma,” Benitez said. “Many of them are coming back from social isolation.” 

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