Long Beach Unified School District elementary schools to now open March 29

Courtesy LBUSD

Postponing from March 1 to March 29 allows all teachers to be vaccinated, the LBUSD Board says.

The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education agreed during its Feb. 17 meeting to postpone its planned reopening of elementary schools from March 1 to March 29 to allow all kindergarten to 5th-grade staff to receive two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to students returning.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Brown told the Board that 3,600 LBUSD staff have already been vaccinated as of Feb. 17, though vaccination is actually optional for school reopening, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Jan. 14 reopening guidelines.

“Being vaccinated is not a requirement,” Brown said. “It’s an opportunity.”

Brown expressed confidence in the March 29 date since CDPH reopening guidelines require a countywide COVID-19 case-rate of 25 per 100,000 for five consecutive days and LA County’s rate as of Feb. 16 has fallen to 20 per 100,000.

March 29 is also a four-day school week, with LBUSD’s spring break starting Friday, April 2. The break will allow staff to assess how students are doing – socially and emotionally as well as academically – before students return from break on April 12, Brown said. The school year ends June 16.

Elementary-school teachers will return to classrooms on March 22, one week prior to students, to prepare their rooms and get used to the new safety protocols, Brown said. Those include spacing desks six feet apart, organizing students into pods or groups, weekly testing of students and staff and using fixed entrances and exits.

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

Teachers will also continue teaching online during that week, Brown said. 

It’s also optional for students to continue learning online rather than physically return to classrooms on March 29. Results of a parent survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 12 show about half are opting to keep their children learning online, Brown said.

Students who choose to remain online will have different teachers than those who attend in person. Both online and in-person students will have a hybrid schedule, with teacher instruction for 2.5 hours each day and the remaining time devoted to working online at home. 

For middle schools and high schools to also reopen, LA County would have to be in the State’s “red tier” of seven or less cases per 100,000 for five consecutive days. 

Anticipating the county achieving that goal, LBUSD is preparing to reopen middle schools on April 20 and high schools on April 19 for seniors and April 26 for grades 9-11, according to the assistant superintendents of those levels. 

LBUSD will survey middle-school and high-school parents from March 1-26 to know how many students would be returning to campus if schools can reopen, just as it did elementary-school parents. 

Brown noted that some elementary schools have 76% of students returning while others have only 26%. The number impacts logistics, ranging from how many teachers and classrooms will be needed to how many entrances and exits will need to be used. 

Board Member Dr. Juan Benitez, who represents LBUSD District 3, said families in his Southwest Long Beach area had a relatively lower response rate to the survey and a lower percent wanting their child to return to in-person schooling. Five elementary schools in District 3 will have less than 40% of students returning, he said.

Map showing the 5 districts within the Long Beach Unified School District. (LongBeach.gov)

He asked the board not to lose sight of those students, some of whom are negatively impacted by online learning due to language, technology, transportation and other socio-economic barriers. Though they would benefit the most from in-person learning, their families opted to keep them at home, Benitez said. 

“These are our highest needs students,” he said, asking staff for an update at the next board meeting on March 3 on how LBUSD can further help them. 

Benitez also suggested that LBUSD conduct town-hall-style community meetings to directly inform parents using visuals, diagrams and a minute-by-minute account of what a school day will look like for returning students, in multiple languages. 

“These things are moving fast,” he said. “There’s so much information.”

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