During a recent press briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, the discussion was held on next month’s expected return to in-person learning at public schools. 

Many parents, however, are still wrestling with the decision on whether or not to send their kids back to a traditional public classroom while many legislators are encouraging them to return, and are attempting to ease their concerns.

With The COVID-19 shutdown now hitting the one-year mark when LAUSD schools moved all of their resources to “distance-learning” the push is to now get students moving back to a traditional setting, noting that students have had a year of falling behind, especially among LAUSD’s majority Latino and Black school population.  

LAUSD Superintendent  Austin Beutner recently gave a tour at Panorama High School in Panorama City to demonstrate cleaning and safety precautions, and announced that there would be an “in-person graduation” held at schools this year.

A survey sent out to LAUSD families proved to have much skepticism.  

While early results indicated 51 percent of parents supported in-person learning, when the information was broken down for higher grades, only 44 percent of middle school parents and 33 percent of high school students supported returning their older children back to a traditional classroom setting. Some questioned the plan to have their homeroom teachers, who would still be instructing them on Zoom.  

Students who are in higher grades have also expressed the need for mental health and emotional support as they make the transition back with the realization that they have fallen behind —   especially for senior students having to face how they can apply for college when their grades no longer make them attractive candidates.   

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger is one elected official who has strongly supported the return to the brick and mortar school setting. 

“It has been exactly one year since the state closed Los Angeles county classrooms and during this time we’ve witnessed a significant academic, social, and emotional decline in our students,” Barger said.

“Last month I sent Gov. Newsom a letter, urging for the immediate reopening of all classrooms through LA county. Successful returns to the classrooms have been well documented worldwide and are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has identified Five Strategies for safely reopening,” she said.

Barger listed the strategies as to “continuing to wearing masks, physical distancing, washing your hands, cleaning facilities and improving ventilation in classrooms and school buildings, and implementing a robust contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine program should anyone test positive.”

She acknowledged, however, that mandatory vaccinations for teachers and staff are not required by the CDC, and said she was thankful that the state has given the green light for schools to reopen.

There has been concern that for many Latino LAUSD students, their situations can be especially challenging. There is concern that for those who live in multi-generational households, and have parents who are “essential workers,” a return back-to-school may cause them to be further exposed to the virus and its impending strains that have yet to be realized.

Without a vaccine developed for children, there is fear that it can increase their risk for exposure that can be carried to older family members living in the same household.  

Eloisa Gonzalez, MD, MPH, and director of Integrative Medicine at the Wellness Center at LAC+USC Historic General Hospital, noted the vast disparities that still persist among LA’s most vulnerable residents.  

“As we vaccinate our residents who are 65 and older, we have been noting a very similar and very damaging pattern of disproportionality. White and Asian residents 65 and older continue to have the highest vaccination rates,” Gonzalez said. 

“As of March 6, almost 59% of white residents and almost 53% of Asian residents 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Where as almost 48% of American Indian/Alaskan Native residents, 43% of Latinx residents, and 48% of black residents who are aged 65 and older have received at least one dose.”

Gonzalez also stated while there is still a disproportionately lower amount of non-white, non-Asian residents who have received at least one dose of vaccination (in comparison to the white population among the community itself), there has been a significant percentage increase of American Indian/Alaskan Native (69.6%), Latinx (65.8%), and Black/African American (91.5%) residents age 65 and older receiving vaccinations.

The numbers of hospitalizations and deaths are under close watch and are declining. but are still higher than the November-December surge, Gonzalez said. She cited the county’s case rate at the time of the press briefing as less than 700 per day, the lowest since April 2020. 

She noted that more vaccine sites are being opened up for LA county residents or workers who are public transit workers, custodians and janitors, airport ground crews, social workers at risk of violent encounters, and foster parents who provide emergency housing. This week, on March 15, eligibility for the vaccine was extended to people age 16-64 who are pregnant or have immunocompromised conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

It has been stressed that the vaccinations are provided without charge and no questions about citizenship or immigration status will be asked. You are required, however, to show proof of your identity and that you are eligible to be vaccinated at this time.

 Proof of identity can include a utility bill, work ID or even a  Costco card.

Appointments can be made over the phone, at (833) 540-0437, at the county website (https://tinyurl.com/LAVAXAPPTS) and via community organizations’ “promotoras,” who are working in under-served communities to help overcome any challenges to getting vaccine appointments, such as lack of transportation or Internet access.