The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education reflected on the successful reopening of elementary schools after 378 days closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also learned that preparations are on track for middle schools and high schools to open next week.
Middle schools are set to open Tuesday, April 20. High-school seniors can return Monday, April 19 and all other high schoolers can return the following week on Monday, April 26. Teachers have been in classrooms since Monday, April 12 preparing for students’ return.
Brian Moskovitz, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, said a tremendous amount of time, energy and teamwork that “no one will recognize” went into preparing for the important first 10 minutes of elementary students returning to their classrooms.
“Preparation is key,” he said, adding that students were already familiar with their teachers online so had no fear.
He thanked parents and students for being resilient during the year-long school closures and preparations for returning.
Board members who visited elementary schools on reopening day described palpable energy from students and teachers.
“It was fun to see kids literally bouncing to get into their classrooms,” Board Member Megan Kerr said.
Dr. Jay Camerino, assistant superintendent of high schools, said his schools are also preparing to open next week, and in the meantime sent mascots and other supportive efforts to help elementary schools open March 29.
Safety and logistical preparations are underway at middle schools set to reopen April 20, Assistant Superintendent of Middle and K-8 Schools Dr. Christopher Lund said.
The District is securing enough personal-protective equipment (PPE), procuring head-sets for teachers with projection devices, ventilating classrooms and spacing student desks four to six feet apart, Lund said. Schools are also organizing hallway traffic flow and lunch-area spacing. Masks are required in all classrooms.
Returning sixth-graders, who have never been to their middle school, had an orientation this week to get accustomed to their classrooms.
Only about 50% of middle-school students are returning to in-person instruction, with the rest having opted to continue to learn virtually at home, Lund said.
Return rates vary by school area, he said. Westside and Northside middle schools are seeing lower return rates of about 35%, though some other LBUSD middle schools have 60% of students returning.
Regardless of setting, all students will keep their same classroom teacher, Lund said. All students will meet together on Mondays, whether virtually or in-person. And all will have two asynchronous learning days at home per week in a hybrid learning model.
“The momentum is really positive of our students returning,” Camerino said.
As with middle-schoolers, not all high-schoolers opted to return to in-person learning.
“Our schools have really been purposeful in ensuring that all of our students are still part of our school, our community,” Camerino said. “They’re still part of the team and we are happy to have them, virtually and in person.”
High-school sports have also resumed, Camerino said, with football games—which would normally be played during fall—scheduled for upcoming weekends.
Though athletes are required to maintain a 2.0 minimum GPA, some have slipped well below that mark with virtual learning, Camerino said.
The District will reach out to those students to discuss bringing up their GPA and completing credits rather than banish them from school sports, Camerino said. However, LBUSD will begin enforcing the eligibility requirement for athletes whose GPAs slip below 2.0 by the end of Fall 2021.
Board Member Erik Miller asked about the possibility of graduation for seniors, since the State is expected to reopen all sectors on June 15 and the last day of school is June 16.
Camerino said he is not sure yet if larger-scale graduations will be possible, but each curriculum-and-career-specific Pathways program will have a graduation ceremony outdoors. Last year, LBUSD had conducted “drive-through” and virtual graduation ceremonies.
“There will be a graduation,” Camerino said. “It’s just a matter of capacities.”
Camerino said he’s also hopeful of a senior event, such as a prom, dance or sporting event, toward the end of the school year.
Superintendent Dr. Jill Baker said March 29 was the first time students were physically in school since she became superintendent last summer. LBUSD is the first large school district to have reopened in California, she remarked.
“It’s not a race, but it’s an incredibly complex equation to open a school district for 70,000 students, even if they aren’t all returning for in-person this year,” Baker said. “In fact, that makes it even more complex.”