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Statement by Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner - The Path Forward (03-01-21)

CONTACT:                                                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Shannon Haber, 213-393-1289                              March 1, 2021

Statement by Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner

The Path Forward

LOS ANGELES (March 1, 2021) – Today, we are taking an important step toward reopening school classrooms by expanding COVID-19 vaccination efforts to include all employees in Los Angeles Unified who are, as of today, eligible to have access to the vaccine. Vaccinating school staff is a critical piece of reopening school campuses in the safest way possible.

Vaccinations for school staff will initially be available at three school sites, as well as Hollywood Park in Inglewood, and transportation to Hollywood Park will be available from our schools throughout the area. 

Providing vaccinations for school staff in an organized manner will help Los Angeles Unified open schools sooner. Employees can avoid the online “vaccine lottery” trying to find a vaccination appointment. Importantly, the effort recognizes how staff are all connected at schools – a school bus driver takes students to school, a principal unlocks the front door, a teacher leads in the classroom, a cafeteria worker prepares lunch and a custodian keeps the school clean.

Los Angeles Unified’s vaccination program uses a technology and information system built with the support of Microsoft which includes registration and scheduling, tracking of vaccines in stock, contactless appointment check-in and the ability to share the information with the school community and the appropriate health authorities.

We started working with Microsoft on this last Summer. We knew we’d need help to bring students and staff back to schools in a safe and coordinated way and we planned ahead by integrating COVID testing and vaccinations into the solution.

I’m proud of this work and grateful for the time and thought our team of technologists, operations and procurement specialists, legal advisors and administrators put into this.  Los Angeles Unified is the first school district, and likely largest employer, in the nation to use a comprehensive technology solution like this.

On February 8th, 21 days ago, I proposed a plan to reopen all preschools and elementary schools in Los Angeles Unified and offer services to students with special learning needs within 60 days. 60 days would be April 9th.

As we’ve shared many times, this plan has three parts – the highest standard of health practices and protocols at schools, lower levels of the virus in the communities we serve and timely and sufficient access to vaccinations for school staff.

All of the health practices and protocols in place at our schools already exceed the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID levels in the Los Angeles area are declining as people heed the advice of health authorities to wear masks and practice social distancing, more people have natural immunity from being exposed to the virus and more people are being vaccinated.

In order to complete the puzzle and bring students and staff back to school in the safest way possible, school staff need to be offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine and that begins here today.

There are more than 86,000 people who work in traditional and charter schools in Los Angeles Unified. Our initial focus will be to vaccinate school staff who are currently working at school sites and all who are involved in preschool and elementary school. This vaccination effort will allow us to reopen these schools by the middle of April as part of the plan we have shared.

Our team has been working closely with the Governor’s office to significantly increase the number of doses of vaccine available for school staff. I’m pleased to announce the Governor has committed an additional 25,000 doses of vaccine for school staff in Los Angeles Unified over the next two weeks. That commitment aligns with his and my values – serve students and families who’ve been amongst those most impacted by this virus. Governor Newsom has made vaccinations for school staff a priority and we must do all we can to help those most in need. This plan will allow us to complete during the next two weeks the vaccinations for school staff who are already working at school sites, staff who are working with our youngest learners and those working with students with learning differences and disabilities.

While this completes the last piece of the puzzle to reopen schools, and for some marks the beginning of the path to recovery, we’re not waiting for schools to reopen to help students and their families. In Los Angeles Unified, the path to recovery won’t have to wait until school reopens or a new school year starts in August. We started back in August of last year.

One example is the Primary Promise which is our commitment to build a foundation in literacy, math and critical-thinking skills for students in elementary schools. We started this program last September and it’s already making a difference for our youngest learners.

As one might expect, reading skills assessments of current first-graders taken when  school started last August showed that many students had fallen behind. More than half the students weren’t at grade level to start the year. Remember, these students were in kindergarten last year and missed out on critical learning opportunities last spring so one could expect to see gaps. The challenge for educators is what to do about it.

The path to recovery began immediately. We added reading teachers to provide small groups of students with an additional 20-30 minutes of instruction each day. Specific skills are taught to help students increase fluency and phonemic awareness and students apply those skills to reading grade-level materials. This extra instructional time and intentional focus on the basics is having a big impact.

A pilot effort was created for more than 400 first-graders from high-needs communities who needed additional help – 91% of them began the semester far below grade level in reading. After just 10 weeks of intensive help, more than a third of the students already met or exceeded grade-level standards. This sort of progress is being made with all types of students in the program and we expect to see continued big gains throughout the school year. The Primary Promise is now being expanded to all elementary schools in Los Angeles Unified. Efforts like this are under way with all types of students in all grades in our schools.

Today marks an important milestone as we embark on the effort to vaccinate a very large number of people in a very short period of time.

Like all who compete in SoFi Stadium, it takes a team and we’re grateful for the extraordinary team who are helping in this effort, many of whom are here today.

Governor Newsom for making school staff a priority in vaccination efforts.

Chair of the County Board of Supervisors Hilda Solis and the four other supervisors who continue to champion not only the work to vaccinate school staff but our joint efforts to use school sites to provide vaccinations. This groundbreaking partnership with the County will help provide access to the vaccine in communities which do not have adequate access to health services.

Mayor Butts who is a tireless champion for the city of Inglewood where we are standing today.

Board President Kelly Gonez and her six colleagues on the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education who have remained steadfast in their support of me and our commitment to reopen schools as soon as possible and in the safest way possible.

Our COVID testing and vaccination consortium of Anthem Blue Cross, Health Net, Cedars-Sinai, Microsoft, UCLA, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and SummerBio. We started working together last June and on behalf of the 650,000 students we serve, thank you for your advice, counsel and commitment.

The dedicated staff of Los Angeles Unified who have led the nation in our response to COVID – providing 108 million meals and 24 million items of much-needed supplies, making sure 500,000 students have the computer and internet access they need to stay connected to their school community and continue learning, providing about a half-million free COVID tests – all of this has been provided at a convenient, neighborhood school. And now, you’re going to help all of our colleagues receive access to the vaccine. It’s an enormous undertaking, just setting up the more than 10,000 traffic cones in this parking lot took the better part of a day.

And, finally, to our hosts the Rams and the team from Hollywood Park, who have time and again demonstrated their commitment to children and schools. On behalf of my 86,000 colleagues who work in our schools, we’re delighted to be your first capacity crowd at SoFi Stadium.