L.A. and San Diego Defy Trump to Start Academic Year With Virtual Classes

Los Angeles, home to America’s second-largest school district, and San Diego said they will start the academic year with online classes amid the resurgent coronavirus.

“The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise,” Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said in a statement. “Last week was the worst yet in the Los Angeles area.”

The districts’ decisions come just one day after America’s top education official downplayed the risk of reopening schools in the fall -- a top priority for Donald Trump. The president has suggested that funding could be pulled from schools that don’t comply. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Monday the president would be willing to consider increasing funding for those that reopen schools.

“If schools aren’t going to open, they shouldn’t get the funds,” Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, said on Fox News. “Give it to the families.”

The reopening of schools is widely seen as imperative to help revive an economy that’s sagged amid the pandemic. If schools remain online-only, workers -- especially those with young children -- may need to remain home during the school day, as many have since March.

“Countries that have managed to safely reopen schools have done so with declining infection rates and on-demand testing available,” according to Monday’s joint release from the LA and San Diego school districts. “California has neither. The skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.”

Across the country, New York City -- home to the nation’s largest school district and the epicenter of the virus in March and April -- expects to make room for social distancing by scheduling in-person classes for most students two to three days a week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said a decision on whether schools will reopen for in-person learning will be made by the state early next month. Cuomo has noted that the federal government has no authority on school reopenings.

Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department, said schools must be prepared to deliver a full academic year of learning beginning in the fall. In a statement after the Los Angeles and San Diego districts announced their decisions, she said, “This might not look the same in every place -- in fact, we hope that state and local education leaders take this opportunity to provide families with options based on their personal situations and the local health realities.”

Los Angeles County has seen coronavirus cases surge recently. On Monday, the county said 9% of people are testing positive and reported another 13 deaths and 2,593 new cases. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, last week said the area is “seeing community spread and hospitalizations like we saw in late April.”

Instruction will resume on Aug. 18 in Los Angeles and Aug. 31 for the San Diego Unified School District. “The federal government must provide schools with the resources we need to reopen in a responsible manner,” according to the joint statement.

California Governor Gavin Newsom applauded “the leadership of those districts for leaning in and recognizing their responsibility at this moment.”

Beutner didn’t address the Trump administration’s threat to withhold money, and a spokeswoman for the district declined to comment. Most school funding in America comes from state and local sources, though the federal government supplements with money for nutrition and special education, among other things.

Los Angeles’s virus-positivity rate, Beutner said, is “well above the level of 5% the World Health Organization guidelines say is appropriate for communities to reopen. The comparison with New York should also be a cautionary note for all of us in Los Angeles.

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