Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will remain closed and continue to rely on remote learning this fall, citing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Southern California.
“The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control,” a joint statement from San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified School Districts (LAUSD) reads.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said that the fall semester will begin on Aug. 18 as previously scheduled, but with all students learning online from home. The decision would affect the district’s 75,000 employees and 700,000 students and their families.
“We closed school facilities before there was any case of the virus at schools,” Beutner said in a statement. “That proved to be the right call. Science was our guide and will continue to be.”
Both districts said their goal is to bring students back to school during the 2020-21 academic year, “as soon as public health conditions allow.” They are going to provide a public assessment in August regarding when a physical return to class would be possible.
The decision comes amid an increasingly polarized debate over reopening schools. While the federal government has urged school districts to fully return to the pre-pandemic normalcy, teacher unions are calling on their members to teach exclusively online.
Over the weekend, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once again demanded school districts to resume in-person learning, threatening to “defund” those planing to stay entirely online or offer a combination of online and in-person classes. “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families,” she told Fox News Sunday. “If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.”
“There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she said , seemingly referencing President Donald Trump’s recent remark. “And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis,” DeVos added.
Meanwhile, the 34,000 member-strong United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) came out against physically reopening schools. The union argued in its research paper (pdf) that LAUSD should not reopen until a COVID-19 vaccine or cure is available, privately-run public charter schools are shut down, police are “defunded,” among many other conditions.
“The eventual restarting of schools should be primarily about learning, not merely about the economy,” the UTLA wrote. “Unlike other countries that recognize protecting lives is the key to protecting livelihoods, the United States has chosen to prioritize profits over people.”