Officials close LAUSD schools in response to COVID-19, Parents concerned with impact to children's education

By Alma Villegas
Charles W. Barrett Elementary will close two weeks starting Monday March 16 as part of a districtwide effort against the spread of COVID-19, Los Angeles, Calif., March 13, 2020. 

Early this morning, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced the closing of more than 1,000 schools as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. Parents at a local elementary school said they are still processing the notification.

“Effective Monday March 16, we will close all Los Angeles Unified public schools for two weeks while we evaluate the appropriate path forward,” stated LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner during a press conference today.

As the second largest school district in the nation and the biggest in the state, LAUSD serves more than half a million students who will relocate elsewhere while schools are closed. Parents at Charles W. Barrett Elementary said they will comply with the decision of school district officials if it was made in the best interest of safety. What they worry about, they said, is the educational instruction students will miss.

“More than anything, what is concerning me is their education,” said Mario Martinez, who pointed to his 7-year-old daughter beside him. “But if they’re taking these measures then they must know what is best.”

While Martinez waited for his other child to be dismissed, his daughter read a book. She shook her head when asked how she felt about not attending school. “She doesn’t like it,” Martinez said with a chuckle. Martinez added that his wife who is not working at the time will be taking care of their children in the coming days.

A blue paper notice sent home today and signed by principal Jera Turner advised that students had been given homework packets for the next two weeks. Lupe Perez said her older child who is in middle school had received a take-home tablet to complete her homework.

“I almost guarantee that of all the kids that went home with homework packets, only 5 of them are going to touch them,” said a teacher at the school who wishes to remain anonymous.

Perez who sat on the passenger seat of the van she drove said she is pregnant and unemployed, and would be caring for her two children in the meantime.

Another parent said she believed the cancellation of classes could have been better communicated to parents.

Michelle Ferguson said she was thinking about parents who must now resolve the issue of childcare for the next two weeks.

“We could have had a better warning because you know a lot of parents work,” said Ferguson who picked her son up after school. She said she thought the announcement was sudden and added she didn’t understand why district officials would close school campuses while simultaneously providing resource centers.

Ferguson’s 6-year-old son buried his face in her mother’s jacket, and said he couldn’t decide whether he was happy or not about missing school several days. A certified nursing assistant, Ferguson said she recently suffered a work injury and would not be returning to work until June. She would be caring for her two children starting Monday and would not need to attend the resource centers.

“While our school facilities will be closed, plans are in place for students to continue to learn during this time and we will open 40 family resource centers throughout the community we serve to continue to provide care for children and families needed,” stated Beutner.

The resource family centers will open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Wednesday March 18, and will remain that way until schools open, according to school district officials. The centers will provide student meals and a safe place for students to interact with peers, said Beutner.

Outside the school, Juan Salvador sold esquites or corn in a cup, and other snacks to students and families he would not be seeing for the next two weeks. “I’m going to endure,” he said “One never prepares for the future until the last minute.”

Salvador said he felt positive despite the fact that a large part of his income came from students and caregivers attending district schools. He said that the spread of COVID-19 didn’t alarm him because he believed that people died only when it was their time.

Juan Salvador sells esquites to two customers from his van, Los Angeles, Calif., March 13th, 2020. The basic substance of an esquite is corn kernels in a cup mixed with mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder.

“I know someone who was shot seven times in the stomach and survived. And I knew someone who was in a coma for a year and then woke up,” Salvador said. He said his 17-year-old son who attends a high school in the district believes differently and urges him to stay safe.

By 3 p.m. the surrounding school area was empty and a light rain started to fall. Inside the campus, students in the after-school program had not yet been dismissed. The notice given to parents said there would be further updates through phone calls from school district staff.

Rochelle Dorsey, a crossing guard holds the bottle of hand sanitizer she carries every day, Los Angeles, Calif., March 13, 2020. With three different jobs, she said she will choose to work for as long as possible because "the rent is too high."


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