In an interview last week, current Long Beach Unified School District superintendent Chris Steinhauser and incoming LBUSD superintendent Jill Baker outlined the first stages of the LBUSD’s plan to return to school when the 2020-21 school year begins on September 1.
“It’s closer to what has been known as school,” said Baker, who will take over the district’s top job on August 1. “But new challenges exist–new challenges and less money.”
The LBUSD has 70,000 students, and more than 20% of the city’s population are either students, parents of students, or employees of the district, making their decision-making process central to Long Beach’s plans for recovery, a responsibility that Baker said she’s aware of as her team is strategizing.
“K-12 students are different from college students in that they’re part of what gets the economy going,” said Baker.
A major challenge for parents across the city as stores and other employment centers re-open is what to do for child care with students still learning from home.
The good news for families is that the district is confident they’ll have an array of options for families to choose from in the Fall, including in-person instruction.
“We know parents have many different opinions so it’s about choice,” said Steinhauser. “We’re getting pressure on all sides. There are parents who want their kids there five days a week, others are saying, ‘I don’t want my child there until there’s a vaccine.’ So we’re developing a full matrix of options.”
For students who are on campus, things will look different–current guidelines from national and state health agencies suggest that districts should plan for social distancing within classrooms. That means desks will have to be spaced out and other major modifications made.
“We won’t be able to bring every student back at the same time on the same schedule into the classroom,” said Baker. “We’re looking at scheduling, we’re looking at how to maximize spaces.”
Baker and Steinhauser said that there will be an in-person and an online component for each class, so that if a closure comes down mid-school year, teachers and students won’t be caught off guard like they were this year. That will also allow students to take a class where some of them are on campus and some are learning from home.
“The online distance program will be robust and grade, the kind they haven’t seen yet this year,” said Baker. “We’re thinking of things that three months ago weren’t even a concept.”
The district’s flexibility won’t just apply to situations where some students are in class and some are at home–it also allows for the possibility that a specific campus has to close down while the rest of the district remains on campus.
“There will need to be two plans for everything,” said Baker. “There may need to be a situation where we close a specific school as opposed to the entire district.”
Steinhauser also stressed the challenges that will be posed by major budget cuts, with the district expected to drop $70 million in state funding each of the next three years.
“If students are required to wear masks on campus, that would cost $6 million,” said Steinhauser. “We have some healthy reserves to help us get through the next few years, but it’s really devastating. In the Great Recession we received $108 million from the federal government under the American Recovery Act. Right now we are getting $20 million, and the cut we just took is bigger than the biggest cut of the Great Recession.”
Baker and Steinhauser said that their confidence in some kind of an in-person learning plan as well as their ability to proactively construct that plan were in large part the result of close collaboration with the city’s health department. Steinhauser said that close partnerships with higher education would help provide more insight in the coming months.
“Because of our partners at LBCC and Long Beach State, we are uniquely positioned to be the best system in the state on how to do this new work,” he said.
Baker said for families anxious for more news, she’s planning on regular updates to the community about the Fall of 2020, with video messages to be released at least every other week through the Summer.