Elementary school students returned to classrooms in Long Beach, California on Monday, and the Los Angeles to Boston locations prepared for significant expansions to in-person teaching as the majority of the country’s counties have now started reopening school buildings, many of which have already opened have been closed for more than a year.
On Monday, Burbio, which monitors around 1,200 districts, including the 200 largest in the country, reported that 53.1 percent of students were in schools that offered face-to-face lessons and that for the first time the proportion of students who attended virtual or virtual School attendance in hybrid classes had declined.
The change, Burbio officials said, appeared to be due to the return of elementary and middle schools to face-to-face teaching and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new rules that allowed schools to be three feet of social distance instead of allowing six feet in elementary schools.
However, there are still some barriers to reopening. On the west coast, large neighborhoods in the rest of the nation have generally lagged behind their peers. The rising infections in Southern California after the winter vacation were partly responsible for a slow recovery in the school system in Los Angeles.
Part of the slow start is due to resistance from teachers whose unions in democratically-ruled Washington, Oregon and California are generally more powerful than many other states and who are wary of returning to what they consider to be dangerous jobs. Despite federal instructions that elementary schools in particular are safe if health precautions are followed.
Even some schools where teachers have agreed to return are still experiencing setbacks. For example, schools in Oakland and San Francisco are slated to reopen next month to elementary and special needs students. But labor agreements in these two California cities have allowed significant numbers of teachers to opt out, leaving some schools with insufficient teachers to reopen and causing others to look for substitutes.
Public schools in California’s three main districts – Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno – have announced that they will be releasing elementary school students back onto campus later in April, as new coronavirus cases have fallen across the country.
And on Monday, Long Beach – the state’s fourth largest borough with about 70,000 students – began leaving about 14,000 elementary school students in school buildings for about two and a half hours a day, five days a week.
Long Beach School District opened earlier than other major California school systems because local unions agreed last summer to reopen as soon as health conditions allowed, and because the city was vaccinating teachers earlier than other counties in the state could begin.
Unlike most other cities in Los Angeles County, Long Beach has its own health department, which gives the city its own vaccine supplies and the ability to set its own vaccine priorities at a time when the entire county made teachers wait until other Groups such as residents aged 65 and over were vaccinated.
Updated March 29, 2021
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“A city with its own health department can be quicker,” said Jill Baker, the city’s headmistress, who described the return to the classroom this week as “exciting and meaningful.”
The school district is one of the largest employers in the city, and two-thirds of students are entitled to free or discounted lunches. Therefore, vaccinating school workers and reopening classrooms was seen as economically important, Ms. Baker said.
In-person classes for older students are scheduled to resume on April 19th. Grades 6 through 8 can return on April 20th and grades 9 through 11 on April 26th. The last day of school is in mid-June.