Meanwhile, glimpses of a more ‘normal’ school year emerge, despite lingering concerns about COVID-19
About 11% of students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District were no-shows on the first day of school, underscoring the fact that more work needs to be done to re-engage those students, the district said Monday, Aug. 15.
The 89% attendance rate was a 12% improvement over last year – and could be adjusted higher once attendance data for the district’s six new virtual academies are reported.
About half the students in L.A. Unified were chronically absent last year, meaning they missed more than 10% of school days.
On Friday, Carvalho as well as other district employees and school board members, visited the homes of chronically absent students to hear from them what issues or challenges they faced that caused them not to attend classes — and to encourage them to come to school more regularly this year. The home visits will continue throughout the school year as needed.
Besides chronic absenteeism, L.A. Unified has been dealing with declining enrollment over the past two decades. As of Monday, the district had 437,284 students – including about 6,000 in its virtual academies – with another roughly 120,000 enrolled in charter schools, the superintendent reported.
Although students and staff weren’t required to undergo COVID-19 testing before returning to school, it was highly encouraged, and the district distributed 2 million take-home rapid antigen tests last week, Carvalho said. About 1,055 students ended up testing positive, as did about 350 employees – out of a workforce of about 74,000 people, the superintendent said.
He also addressed concerns about staffing issues.
After dealing with a teacher shortage last school year, Carvalho said the district has hired more than 1,500 new teachers since the latter part of the last school year, and that 500 are in the process of being hired. Once their background checks are complete, all teaching positions will be staffed by permanent positions instead of being filled by district employees who hold teaching credentials but normally wouldn’t be teaching in the classroom, the superintendent said.
This will be the first time in more than a decade the district will have fully staffed teaching positions without relying on substitutes or temporary deployments of non-classroom employees, he said.
Antonio Ceja brought a special treat for his kindergarten teacher on the first day of school, but had tears as he said goodby to his mother, Jessenia Ceja at Vena Elementary school in Arleta, CA Monday, August 15, 2022. Monday was the first day of school in the LAUSD school district, the second largest school district in the country. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
As for how students and parents were feeling on Monday?
Things weren’t 100% back to what they were pre-pandemic, but for many students and parents the first day felt more normal than it has since the coronavirus became a global health crisis 2½ years ago.
To be sure, clues that the coronavirus remains a presence in the community were evident by the students who continued to wear masks in their classrooms – although that was noticeably more common in schools in the southern portion of the district compared to some campuses in the San Fernando Valley.
But there were also signs that more students, parents and teachers were ready to shift to an endemic stage of COVID-19.
At Vena Avenue Elementary & Gifted/High Ability Magnet school in Arleta, parents stood on the outside of the chain-link fence, peering into the school yard where their children were clustered in groups, preparing to head into their classrooms for the start of the school day.
Apart from wishing they were allowed to walk their children into class and meet the teacher – parents said they had to drop their children off at the entrance but couldn’t step onto the campus as a COVID-19 safety precaution – the parents appeared to be handling sending their children off for the first day of school well.
Heading into the fourth school year with COVID-19 as a public health issue to contend with, many of the parents appeared more at ease – or, at least, to have accepted that the coronavirus is here to stay – and more willing to start the new academic term under the district’s relaxed COVID-19 protocols.
Parent Susie Torres admitted she harbors some lingering concerns since the coronavirus remains a presence in the community, but said it’s important to have her two children on campus both for academic reasons and for the socialization aspect of schooling.
“I’m OK with it as long as everybody takes the responsibility that if they’re feeling sick, they’ll keep their kids home,” Torres said about the district’s decision to stop requiring weekly COVID-19 testing. “We’re slowly moving forward.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 appeared to be far from fourth-grader Carlos Ruiz’s mind as he waited in a line to get onto campus.
“I’m very excited to see my friends,” he said. The 9-year-old said he was most looking forward to recess with friends he hadn’t seen all summer.
As a further sign that the start of this school year appears to be the most “normal” it’s been since before the pandemic, the vast majority of parents and students at the school arrived maskless.
Even in one fifth-grade classroom, which Carvalho visited, most of the children opted to forgo the mask indoors.
The same was true at Porter Ranch Community School in the San Fernando Valley, where most parents attending an indoor meeting were maskless.
As a stem cell scientist, Anu Dimashkie, a parent at the school, said that for the most part, she’s comfortable with the relaxed protocols since there are therapeutics now for people who become infected. Both her elderly father and her brother, who is immunocompromised, caught the virus but both received treatments, and their symptoms ended up being more mild than a cold, she said.
“With having treatments, things are in a very different place,” she said.