Despite Omicron, Los Angeles Students Are Returning to Class

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Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the United States, is forging ahead with plans to open its classrooms for in-person learning on Tuesday.

Like other school districts across the country, Los Angeles Unified is dealing not only with uncertainty over the Omicron variant, but also with politicized tensions over the possibility of a return to remote learning, as well as teacher shortages that have left schools scrambling.

Most students attended classes in person last fall, connecting with their friends and snatching back traces of the normalcy they lost nearly two years ago. Now, school districts across the United States are trying to chart a way forward as coronavirus case numbers break records once again.

Los Angeles public schools had one of the longest shutdowns in the country last school year. The district is ramping up safety measures, but officials there seem determined to keep the children in their classrooms.

“We know there is apprehension, and we’ve added the extra layers of protection for the return to school,” Megan K. Reilly, the interim superintendent, said in a video address on Monday. “There may be a few lines at the start of the school day and longer wait times for buses.”

Nazli Santana, a mother of two middle school students who will return to class on Tuesday, said she wished the district had waited a little longer. “If they could just shut it down for two more weeks, that would have been helpful,” she said.

Last week, the district issued new rules requiring testing as a condition of returning to campus, regardless of vaccination status. Schools have hosted coronavirus testing and vaccination sites for students and distributed at-home tests. Masks are required on campus. A vaccine mandate for students 12 and older was scheduled to take effect this week, but enforcement was delayed to the fall.

District data showed that during the week ending Monday, out of about 458,000 tests of students and staff members, 66,000 had come back positive for the coronavirus, a positivity rate of more than 15 percent — lower than county, state and the country averages, but still high enough to cause alarm.

“I’m worried, like a lot of parents,” said Amanda Santos, whose 7-year-old attends first grade in the district.

For months, Ms. Santos has been keeping her eye an online dashboard where the district shares data. For much of the fall semester, the weekly report for her son’s elementary school was showing only a couple of positive cases at a time. But over the winter break, she watched that number shoot up into the dozens.

That was worrisome, Ms. Santos said. But she added that schools seemed careful about safety, and good about keeping parents informed. “They’re not letting anybody who has a positive test, or who doesn’t test, on campus,” she said. “So I feel secure about that.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, the president of the local teachers’ union, said in a statement on Monday that the district was “in a better position than most others in the country” because of the safety measures it has taken.

“This week will be stressful, and there will be disruptions,” she added. “No one has a playbook for this moment.”



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