PALMDALE — A Los Angeles County Office of Education task force on Wednesday released a framework to serve as a guide for reopening schools for the 2020-21 academic year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the physical closure of all school campuses in the county since Mach 16.
The task forced involved 25 district superintendents and leaders from across the county, including Westside Union School District Superintendent Regina Rossall and Lancaster School District Superintendent Michele Bowers. The task force’s guiding principles were to maintain continuity of instruction, keep students and staff safe and healthy, ensure access and equity for all students, communicate with stakeholders such as parents and school employees, and ensure flexibility to meet the needs and advocate for all students, while maintaining fiscal solvency.
“The framework is designed to help us — all of those things we ought to consider, finding them in one place,” Rossall said in a telephone interview. “It’s not a one-size fits all. You sort of pick and choose those things that may be important to you and then you apply them to how it works in your particular school district.”
Rossall added they volunteered for service to ensure northern part of L.A. County had representation. Saugus Union School District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins also participated.
The framework focuses on five areas for districts to consider when planning for the 2020-21 school year: high-quality instruction, health and safety, social-emotional support systems, family and community engagement and operations such as budget and facilities. Detailed considerations for each area, a decision tree, recommendations, templates and resources are offered. Instructional options explored include traditional classroom, distance learning or a combination with social distancing measures in place. Districts are urged to strive for transparency and engage stakeholders throughout the planning process.
The probable instructional models include continuing with distance learning, or a hybrid learning model that combines classroom instruction with social distancing as well as health and safety measures in place, and distance learning.
The other option is face-to-face, where the teacher and the student meet physically in a set place for a set time, for either one-on-one learning, or in group classroom lessons with social distancing as well as health and safety measures in place.
The task force had about 60 members total. Members broke off into the five key focus areas seen in the framework such as health and safety and instruction.
“I think the product is very valuable,” Bowers said in a telephone interview. “It provides a guide that gives considerations. It’s not a must -do, it’s not a directive. It’s a guide with considerations for districts as they consider what that reopening plan needs to look like for their community.”
Bowers added each district will conduct a needs assessment to reach out to employees and families to see what is best for their respective community to design an educational program, as well as identity critical health and safety components to have in place for reopening. Lancaster School District has a survey on its Web site, https://www.lancsd.org/, for parents.
“It is going to look very different than it has in the past,” Bowers said, adding different families will have different needs.
The framework is intended as a guide for the region’s districts, charter schools and other education agencies, which serve some two million students, in making local decisions about how best to reopen schools this fall in collaboration with their diverse stakeholders and communities.
“I am grateful to the extraordinary team of education leaders who volunteered their expertise,” County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo said in a statement. “In a short time, we have a developed a comprehensive planning tool covering all aspects of school operations.”
While plans to reopen schools will look different across the 80 districts, Duardo said the top priorities for all must be the health and safety of students and staff guided by public health directives.