Beutner vows in-person graduations; survey indicates half of LAUSD parents OK with live classes

The Los Angeles Unified School District will have some form of in-person graduation this summer, after a year of online classes, its superintendent said Monday.

“I want to share a special word with the Class of 2021,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a briefing. “Assuming health conditions continue to improve, schools will be able to hold some form of in-person graduation ceremony this year.”

Saturday marked a year since the second-largest district in the nation shifted away from in-class learning to distance learning, shifting all of its resources into the digital space.

“The Class of 2020 wasn’t so fortunate,” Beutner said, noting still “they had a lots fans cheering them on”. “They were the first class to experience an online prom and remote graduation.”

The chance for an in-person graduation comes as the district and its 600,000 students prepare to return to in-person learning by the end of April —  elementary grades by the middle of the month and secondary grades by the end of April.

Beutner said more details would be coming regarding graduation plans.

He also said all students will have the opportunity of some form of summer learning in English and math classes, along with enrichment classes in art, dance, film and computer science.

About half of Los Angeles Unified Schools parents are OK with sending their children back to school when in-class instruction begins in April, reflecting deep “reluctance” in communities hit hardest by coronavirus, district officials said Monday, citing early results of a survey sent to families.

The “Family Survey” sent out by the district, gave parents the chance to weigh in by March 19 on what is the planned reopening of campuses next month after a year of distance learning at the second largest school district in the nation.

Under the return model, families will have the option of their child returning to in-class instruction or staying with distance learning.

Early results — about 10% of families so far — showed that overall, 51% of parents prefer the in-person option.

But that preference waned as the grade level increased.

Interest for the in-person option fell from 62% elementary for it at the elementary school level, but only 44% of middle school families for it and just 33% of high school familes prefering it, according to the early results.

The resistance appears to be coming from communities hit hardest by the virus.

“What we are seeing so far reinforces the disproportionate impact the virus has had on many of the communities we serve,” Beutner said.

Indeed… by household income level, schools in Sun Valley, for instance — where average income levels are below $45,000, preference for in-person is much lower, according to the survey. There, 39% of middle school families prefer an in-person model. In Granada Hills, where income level exceeds $75,000,  the same categery — middle schoolers —  preference for in-person jumps more than 10 percentage points.

“The concerns of families are reflected in the survey responses we received so far,” Beutner said. “While it’s still early and the numbers will change, we see the greatest reluctance to sending their children back to schools in the communities hit hardest by the virus. These also happen to to be the same communities where families are struggling to get by and most likely to have had someone int he family lost work due to the virus.”

As it stands, with L.A. County now moved into the less restrictive red tier, officials are targeting mid-April for elementary school return, along with students with learning differences and disabilities, and late April for secondary schools.

Much depends on vaccinations.

Beutner said that 40,000 of the district’s employees have either been vaccinated, put in place a plan to receive it or have said they don’t want it.

Beutner said every campus’s principal will hold meetings to review vaccination and reopening plans, as well as hold more than 40 community town halls across the county to answer questions.

But the key to getting families to prefer the in-person option will be more vaccinations in the most impacted communities.

Such vaccination efforts are the focus of the state’s initiative to set aside 40% of all vaccine doses to vulnerable communities.

Beutner envisioned school-based vaccination efforts that would include not just vaccination staff but families in the community where that school is located.

“Government needs to tie COVID relief, including vaccinations, togetier with schools if we are to help all students to return to school classrooms,” he said.

The consequences could be dire if they don’t get back.

Experts say there are serious social, emotional and academic setbacks that will occur if they don’t return.

Beutner echoed that concern on Monday, noting that “some children may face a lifetime of consequence from their continued absence from these classrooms.”

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