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Statement by Superintendent Austin Beutner On 2021-22 School Year Calendar (05-04-21)

CONTACT:                                                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Shannon Haber, LAUSD, 213-393-1289                May 4, 2021

Statement by Superintendent Austin Beutner On 2021-22 School Year Calendar

LOS ANGELES (May 4, 2021) – This past year has presented extraordinary challenges for all who work in schools as well as the students and families they serve. These challenges will continue in the school year ahead. As it stands now, more than 70% of students in Los Angeles Unified will return to a school classroom for the first time in about 1½ years when the new school year starts in August. Many of them are our highest-needs students. 

No one is more appreciative than I about how hard everyone in Los Angeles Unified has worked and what has been done – providing 125 million meals to hungry children and adults, making sure a half-million students had the computers and internet access they needed to stay connected with their school community and putting in place the highest standard of COVID safety practices of any school district in the nation which include upgraded air-filtration systems, extra custodial staff to clean and sanitize schools, adequate supplies of PPE and a comprehensive system of COVID testing and vaccinations at schools. 

All while providing the best possible online education. 

Along the way, we have advocated for what we refer to as a Marshall Plan for schools – to make sure schools have adequate funding to help the students and families they serve. Thanks to actions at both the state and federal levels, this has become a reality. Schools in Los Angeles Unified will have record amounts of funding for each of the next two school years.

All of this helps put students on the path to recovery.

The additional funds will allow schools to add reading and math teachers in elementary schools to help students build a foundation in literacy, math and critical-thinking skills. Secondary schools can add more teachers to reduce class sizes. Children in schools will benefit from additional mental health services while students with learning differences and disabilities will receive more direct supports. For the first time in decades, there is sufficient funding to do all of this. Staff have been preparing to implement these plans for months and they will be bringing to the Board in May specific actions in all of these areas which will benefit students.  

But the item for Board action today is specifically about the school calendar for next year. In addition to resources for reading, math, class-size reduction and mental health services, there is funding available to provide more time for students to be in a school classroom. We know the best learning for most students happens in a school classroom.

While we have worked tirelessly to reopen schools, many students are not yet back in school classrooms. And, sadly, we see the greatest reluctance for children to be back in schools from families who live in some of the highest-needs communities we serve. In more affluent communities, 40-50% of elementary school students are now back in schools compared to a bit more than 20% in many low income communities.

The converse is true in high schools where students in low-income communities have returned at about twice the rate of their peers. High-schoolers tell us they are at school because they need the structure of a school setting including reliable access to the internet and a safe place to study.

Low-income communities have been hardest hit by COVID – they have suffered the most job losses and highest levels of illness and death due to the virus. The path to recovery for children from these hard-hit communities should include more time in schools to help them make up for lost learning opportunities and deal with the trauma and anxiety the crisis has brought into their lives.

Governor Newsom spoke to this issue in March when he signed legislation which provides a record amount of resources for school reopening.

“Use this money to extend learning opportunities,” the Governor said. “Extend the school day. Extend the school year.”

“We can do this,” Newsom said. “I understand the hesitancy. I understand the stress and anxiety, but that does not compare to the stress and anxiety we’ll have and the dream of regretting that we could have, would have, should have prioritized our children.”

This is not a simple conversation to have or problem to solve. All who work in schools have answered the call to serve, in ways one could have never imagined just a year ago. Right now, they’re exhausted.

August and the start of a new school year should be different. More people will have been vaccinated, levels of the virus should continue to decrease and most people who work in schools will have had a much-needed break.

One of the responsibilities of leadership is to look down the road and set goals for what needs to get done by the time we get there. My aim when the new school year starts is to make sure all students, including those from communities hardest hit by COVID, are well on the path to recovery. And that each student has the social, emotional and instructional support they will need. That happens best in a school. 

For all who speak of the need for a greater emphasis on equity in public education, this issue presents a real test. Can we provide the extra time in a school classroom that children from families in communities hardest hit by COVID will need to recover?

Of course, we will make sure each student has as much instructional and mental health support as possible while they are at school. But those extra supports are not a substitute for more time in school.  

UTLA leadership were asked to consider all of the different ways to do this with full pay, including pension benefits, for any additional work – extending the school year or school day, regular Saturday school or shortening the long Thanksgiving or January breaks. They would not agree to any of these. 

Unfortunately, that means most students, in particular high-needs students, have no guarantee of additional time in the classroom they need to recover. 

Yes, schools will have additional resources and yes, schools can have the option to add more time. But more time is only possible if schools are properly staffed to be open.

Los Angeles Unified has always risen to the occasion. When the Northridge Earthquake closed schools for a week, schools added a week to the school year. Chicago has a school year which is eight days longer and I wish Los Angeles Unified could as well.