L.A. County schools can reopen small in-person classes for their neediest students on Sept. 14

Labels on desks designate where students can sit with respect to social distancing at a Los Angeles Unified School District campus. <span class="copyright">(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Labels on desks designate where students can sit with respect to social distancing at a Los Angeles Unified School District campus. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Schools in Los Angeles County can reopen small classes beginning on Sept. 14, for students with disabilities and English-language learners, a move to safely provide in-person instruction and services to children whose education has deeply suffered since campuses closed in March.

Small groups of students who have individualized education plans, require instruction for English as a second language, or need assessments or other in-school services will be able to come to campus for their services, as long as their schools comply with the county’s reopening protocols, the health department announced Wednesday.

“This will get children who are in the most need of in-person learning back into the classroom,” said Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis during a news briefing.

The county said schools must maintain small, stable cohorts of no more than 12 students and two supervisors in order to maintain safety for teachers and students.

No waiver is required for schools to pursue this option, but they must submit an operational plan to the county Department of Public Health.

Davis said the county will not be opening the waiver application process to allow schools with students in grades TK-6 to reopen, even though the county’s 14-day average case rate dropped in recent days. More than 200 schools across the state, including dozens in Orange County and San Diego County each, have successfully sought such waivers.

The education of some 760,000 California children with disabilities has been inconsistent at best since campuses shut down. The state has mandated that school districts continue to provide special education to students with disabilities as required by federal laws, but has waived timelines that allow students to receive assessments and services quickly.

Special education attorneys in California say hundreds of clients, especially economically disadvantaged students and those in the child welfare system, overwhelmingly are not receiving the education or services they are entitled to, nor are students who need assessments to receive appropriate care. Educators, parents and student advocates have expressed worry that these students’ hard-fought advances will be lost and further compounded by additional distance learning.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, about 13%, or 64,500 students, were classified as having a significant disability in 2019. Educating these children is a major part of the district’s mission. Last school year it spent about $1.75 billion out of a general fund budget of $8 billion to serve them.

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