Students in California’s two largest school districts may not be seeing the inside of a classroom until 2021.
Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, with a combined 825,000 students, announced on Monday that academic instruction will be shifted to online-only for the fall semester out of fear of further spreading the coronavirus. The decision to hold remote classes only will be reassessed later “based on local measures of whether the virus is sufficiently under control, as well as progress on testing and federal action on funding,” according to a joint press release.
“One fact is clear: those countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available. California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control,” the districts said in the release.
Los Angeles County has recorded more than a third of the total COVID-19 cases in California, a state that has recently seen a second surge in new infections as it began to open back up. California has reported about 331,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish,” Los Angeles school superintendent Austin Beutner told the New York Times.
The United Teachers Los Angeles union has expressed support for leaving physical classrooms shuttered. It said it conducted a survey of 18,000 educators and found that some 83% supported fully remote learning this fall. The California Teachers Association also sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom advocating for no in-person classes.
“It is clear that communities and school districts have not come close to meeting the threshold for a safe return to in-person learning, even under a hybrid model,” the letter said.
The decision by the cities to move to virtual instruction comes as President Trump’s administration has consistently been encouraging schools to be reopened for the coming semester. The administration has even threatened to restrict federal funding from school districts that don’t fully open back up in the fall.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said during a Sunday interview that schools should be up and running in the coming months with limited exceptions.
“Kids need to be back in school, and that school leaders across the country need to be making plans to do just that,” DeVos said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school-by-school or a case-by-case basis.”
Classes are set to resume on Aug. 18 in Los Angeles and on Aug. 31 in San Diego.