By City News Service and the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol

 

The Los Angeles Board of Education has declared a state of emergency, giving Superintendent Austin Beutner the authority to take actions needed to close schools if necessary in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But there are no plans currently to close schools.

The action taken at the board meeting on Tuesday, March 10, is seen as a precaution that would allow Beutner to act quickly as the need arises in the nation’s second-largest school district.

When contacted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, principals at LAUSD schools Morningside Elementary in San Fernando and Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima said they had been informed to refer all inquiries regarding the coronavirus and the district’s response to the LAUSD website for further information and updates.

As of Tuesday night, there were no plans to close schools and no individual diagnosed with COVID-19 had a connection to a LAUSD school, according to the district.

“What we’re asking for is emergency authority,” Beutner told the Board of Education before its unanimous vote. “That does not necessarily mean that there will be emergency action today, tomorrow or a week from now.”

“This will allow us to take all appropriate action as the facts and circumstances could change quickly,” he said

The declaration gives Beutner the authority to relocate students and staff, revise student transportation arrangements and approve alternative educational options, and gives him authority to provide paid leaves of absence for employees due to quarantine or illness, assign staff to serve as disaster-service workers, and order necessary alterations, repairs or improvements to district property.

It also allows Beutner to pay for these measures without going through the usual contracting process, according to the district.

LA Unified is responsible for the education and safety of more than half a million district and charter-school students. If adult education and early education numbers are included, that total rises to more than 670,000.

There also are about 78,000 full- and part-time workers.

Beutner noted that the LAUSD presents possibly unique problems in crafting responses to the virus. He gave the example of Hamilton High — 2,623 students from 94 zip codes, some as far as 30 miles away. And 221 employees from 88 zip codes.

School board member Jackie Goldberg also pointed to unique challenges.

“We have a very large number of students who eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at school,” she said. “I don’t think we have an answer for that yet. … Are there ways to distribute food that don’t include passing the virus along with it?”

Responses to the virus were more drastic elsewhere. After a Catholic school student and a custodian tested positive for COVID-19, the Archdiocese of San Francisco shuttered all 90 of its schools in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties from Wednesday until March 25.

The Elk Grove Unified district, the largest in Northern California, closed schools for the entire week after an elementary school student was diagnosed with the virus.

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