Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald will recommend that PreK-2nd grade students return to in-person learning the week of March 29, according to the posted agenda for Thursday’s special meeting of the Pasadena Board of Education.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Governing Board of the Pasadena Unified School District does hereby state its desire to begin reopening schools the week of March 29, 2021, starting with PreK-2nd grades,” states the agenda item the board will act on.
The board meets at 1:30 p.m. For more on the district and board’s agenda, visit https://www.pusd.us/Page/639.
Those students will be followed by children attending 3rd-5th grades, and then middle and high school students as public health conditions permit, the agenda states.
Some, however, were not happy with the decision.
“As a school teacher in this district, I am deeply concerned that any decision to reopen our schools at this time could put our community at significant risk for a resurgence of the virus,” said Denise Johnson.
“We just came out of a surge in November and December that put a tremendous stress on our hospitals,” Johnson observed. “Do we really want to take that chance of potentially causing another surge?”
At Monday’s joint City Council meeting with the Board of Education, McDonald said he would make a recommendation to the board at the special meeting.
“I support the recommendation of the superintendent,” said School Board President Scott Phelps. “I believe we can do a safe partial re-opening of the earliest grades, such as the ones that are occurring all around us in neighboring districts and in the private schools in Pasadena, and I trust our staff to implement that safely.”
The decision comes amidst plummeting COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County in recent weeks. On Tuesday, state health officials reported that the county’s current case count is 7.2 infections per 100,000 people, far below the 25 infections per 100,000 needed to begin the reopening process.
High schools can reopen once the county maintains a ratio of 7 infections per 100,000 people.
But students won’t be in school for long. One week after they return students will take a week off for spring break.
However, PUSD must open its doors to K-2nd grade students before April 1 in order to get its share of $2 billion promised by Gov. Gavin Newsom to school districts that meet the deadline.
Students will also be off on Cesar Chavez Day, March 31, and Memorial Day, May 31. All told, students will get less than eight weeks of in-person learning before the summer break begins on June 3.
Board members Patrick Cahalan and Tina Wu Fredericks were scheduled to hold town hall meetings on Monday.
The district planned to vaccinate 140 employees this week. So far, 280 district employees have been inoculated. It was not immediately known how many of those employees are teachers.
“I also believe our students will help everyone be safe by following the safety protocols,” Phelps said. “I always double-mask when I am with others outside my family, and I believe the vaccinations of now the great majority of our PreK through 8th-grade staff thanks to the pilot program provided by the Pasadena Public Health Department and Huntington Hospital has increased the safety of our staff tremendously.”
As of Monday, teachers and other essential workers, such as food service workers and law enforcement officials, were eligible for shots. More vaccine doses will be put aside for teachers. On March 15, everyone 16 and over with a serious underlying health condition will become eligible for vaccination.
In correspondence, several people called for the district to wait until the next school year to reopen classrooms. Even if schools were to reopen in March, returning students would get about a month and a half in the classroom before summer break begins.
“What research supports that [one and one half] months in a hybrid situation is going to make an academic improvement versus students having to change their current safe routine?” asked Mary Shimazaki.
Students have been learning from home since the pandemic began last March.
“Board members are to put children above all else,” Phelps said. “The pediatric medical community has been calling for this for months as they know the toll on children that this continued closure of in-person schooling is taking.”