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L.A. Unified proposes a 2-week school year extension for student learning loss, trauma

Los Angeles school officials will consider a plan to extend the next school year by adding one week at the start in August and another week in January after winter break to address learning loss and trauma suffered by students during the yearlong pandemic-forced school closures, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday.

The Board of Education for the nation’s second-largest school system will get a first look at the plan at its Wednesday meeting. Beutner said that in a survey a majority of families expressed interest in extending the school year. Each of the additional weeks would be “split between time for teachers and school staff to plan and participate in additional training and time for students to process the trauma and anxiety they’ve experienced the past year and work on learning fundamentals,” Beutner said.

He did not say whether the extra weeks would be mandatory or elective.

As schools begin a phased-in reopening this week, the school board will review other elements of the district’s academic recovery plan, which includes more reading and math teachers in elementary schools, more teachers in middle and high schools to reduce class sizes, extra staff for tutoring, additional mental health counselors and expanded services for students with special needs, such as those with disabilities.

District efforts will be supported by an unprecedented infusion of additional state and federal aid — more than $5 billion — although a significant portion of these funds are for school safety measures.

In his weekly broadcast Beutner also discussed the wind down of the district food distribution program for the community and stuck by plans to require coronavirus tests of all returning students despite a lawsuit attempting to halt the testing.

The food-distribution effort ultimately resulted in the district providing 122 million meals along with $40 million in donations — including diapers, books and toys.

April 9 was the last day for 22 of the school-based food centers; the remaining 41 will close Friday. Schools can provide referrals for families with an ongoing need for food aid, Beutner said.

“Behind each meal [was] a dedicated team of cafeteria workers, custodians, warehouse workers, truck drivers, school principals and staff and countless others — without whom none of this would have been possible,” Beutner said. “Together, we provided meals to all who needed them without question because we knew it was the right thing to do.”

Beutner made no reference to a lawsuit filed last week that attempted to halt mandatory coronavirus testing for students. The plaintiffs, a group of parents, said it was unlawful to force students to take medical tests that health authorities do not require as a condition for returning to campus.

“All students who return to campus for in-person learning must receive a COVID test the week prior to their school opening,” Beutner said. “For students returning to school the week of April 19th, please schedule your appointment sometime this week. And for students who are starting school this week, it’s not too late to be tested today.”

The district is extending the hours of existing testing sites, which are located throughout the vast school system. These centers will be open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., through April 25. For more information, families can call the district hotline at (213) 443-1300, go to the district website, visit a school testing center or call their child’s school.

The parents who sued over the testing also seek a fuller reopening of L.A. schools by returning to a more normal schedule.

L.A. Unified will open under a hybrid format that continues to rely heavily on remote learning online. At the elementary level, students will learn in-person for half a day, spending the rest of the time working online or independently. At the middle and high schools, students also would attend campus half-time, but all of their core academic work will take place online even when they are in a classroom.

A group of 61 elementary schools and 11 early education centers will be the first to reopen this week, starting Tuesday with kindergarten and first grade.

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