As Long Beach students, parents and teachers prepare for a new school year starting next week, it looks like the uncertainty that has characterized the past year and a half will continue to loom.
Students from the Long Beach Unified School District return to campus on Tuesday, August 31, marking the third consecutive school year affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And although the district has spent the summer preparing for the fall semester, with in-person learning, the ever-changing nature of the virus and government regulations designed to address it means there are still many unanswered questions. on what the 2021-22 academic year will look like.
District officials did not respond to requests for comment. But teachers and parents said in phone interviews on Friday August 20 that they are still unsure how LBUSD will keep teachers and students safe amid the public health crisis.
Andrea Wader, president of the Long Beach Council Parent Teacher Association, said that while she is anxious for the year ahead, she was impressed with how communicative district leaders have been in an ever-changing landscape.
âAs a parent, I think the district is doing a really good job,â she said. “They got a really tough hand of cards.”
Certainly, LBUSD has created several plans to guide the expectations of parents and teachers for the coming year. The district has created a detailed COVID-19 prevention program, which outlines protocols for cleaning, ventilation, contact tracing and more. And officials have also compiled a Learning Acceleration and Support Plan that reviews the resources available to students to help them succeed in their studies.
But some directions have changed in recent weeks, and parents and teachers expect those changes to continue.
Superintendent Jill Baker said last week, for example, that LBUSD has no plans to require COVID-19 testing for students. But officials announced this week that the district will in fact require unvaccinated students to be tested regularly.
“This will likely change again before the start of the school year,” said Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach. “I would probably say, given the direction of things, which will come on August 31, they could choose to test everyone so they know, regardless of our vaccination status.”
Another point of confusion has been the District Independent Study Option, created to allow students to learn at home if parents are uncomfortable sending them back to campus.
While this program provides an alternative to on-campus education, it is nothing like the distance learning approach that was used during most of the pandemic. Instead, student learning should be almost entirely self-guided.
âIf you have students who have trouble staying focused,â said Callopy, âor students who have a disability, it will be a challenge to navigate. “
Wader, for her part, said she feared sending her 10-year-old daughter back to the Fremont Elementary School campus, especially because Wader herself has a weakened immune system. But, she said, she felt the independent study option would take too much away from her daughter’s educational and social experience.
âI have some anxiety about it, but I also have to keep that under control, knowing that I don’t want to keep her at home because of me,â Wader said. âShe would really like to stay home, but I don’t like the independent study option because it takes a lot out of her.
âSo we’re just navigating this area,â she added. âI feel like I’m walking a tightrope.
And still other questions – such as how schools will ensure social distancing with a full classroom of children, or how students will track their schoolwork if they contract the virus and are required to self-quarantine – remain.
Wader said she believes LBUSD will have more answers to any lingering uncertainties this week.
Regardless of how these specific protocols look, Callopy said he believes navigating the new school year will require patience and understanding on everyone’s part.
âIt really feels like the individual has become really important in this pandemic, and we hear about individual rights,â he said, âand we’re not looking for what’s best for the community, what’s best for all of us.
âWe really need to pull ourselves together and try to fix this problem,â Callopy added. “It will be a difficult school year, and it will take a lot of patience and some resilience.”