After previously planning to open with a hybrid system of in-person instruction and distance learning, the Pasadena Unified School District is also considering the possibility of online-only instruction as it awaits new county guidelines amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
The district had previously announced plans to open August 17 with a mixture of both in-person classes and online instruction, along with an option for an entirely online curriculum for parents not yet comfortable sending their kids back to school.
That announcement came just hours before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered health measures including the closure of all indoor dining areas in Los Angeles County and elsewhere, citing a significant spike in COVID-19 infections.
In a private phone call with superintendents, L.A. County Director of Public Health said every school district in the county needed to be prepared to begin the year with 100% distance learning, should it be determined safe for schools to reopen when the time comes, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The PUSD is now waiting on further word from county health and education officials regarding how to proceed, PUSD Board Member Scott Phelps said.
The district has been working on building an online-only program, but it was previously only meant to be one option available to parents.
“So we try to accommodate everybody in some way,” Phelps said. “One-hundred percent online was because certain parents were fearful of reopening. And we also wanted more in-person schooling because we had a number of families where both parents were working.”
Ultimately, the virus will make the decision.
In the time being, “We are considering lots of things like the closed sites being used for teachers to come in — only teachers — and do the online instruction,” he said.
Pasadena’s Public Health Department was also involved in the conversation.
“We are working closely with our schools to support development of their plans for the start of the new school year, by providing science-based public health recommendations,” Pasadena Director of Public Health Dr. Ying-Ying Goh said. “Schools will need to have flexibility in their plans, because the COVID-19 case burden is changing week by week in the region, and is currently increasing.”
“Schools are vital to the well-being of our community, so we want them to find options for educating and supporting students in the best ways possible, that will still keep COVID-19 risk as low as possible,” Goh said.
Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo said districts across the county were watching to see what path the pandemic would take, and how it will affect schools in the fall.
“We want to do everything possible to bring students back to school as safely as possible,” she said. “Districts have been planning to reopen since the day they closed, and we know our young people learn best in the classroom. However, it is important to acknowledge that planning for reopening is complicated. Our plans must abide by public health orders. Our models must meet the needs of all students, including their mental health and emotional wellbeing.”
She acknowledged the significant challenges created by the uncertainty.
“School districts are faced with difficult decisions as we await final guidelines from the Department of Public Health. We are grappling with financial uncertainty and concerns about paying for required health and safety equipment, even as supplies arrive from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services,” she said.
“While the future is uncertain, we want every family, student, educator and school employee in Los Angeles County to know our 80 school districts are focused on continuing to educate and support our young people while complying with public health guidelines,” Duardo said.