Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner.
Irfan Khan | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
A day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines that encouraged the reopening of public schools, the leader of the country's second largest district said there was no schedule when the classrooms in Los Angeles would return students would welcome.
The opening date for the new school year would have been August 18, but Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner was one of the first heads of the public school district to announce that distance learning would continue in the fall.
"It's an incredibly tough call," Beutner said on Friday to "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt. "Because we understand that students have to be in school. Young learners, those who learn to read, students who learn English, students who may have had problems before … the best place for them is to study at school. "
But health and safety come first in the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
"We know that if we can't get students who are now learning to read at school to create this foundation for the rest of their future, there is a lifelong consequence," said Beutner.
Keeping students out of classrooms is particularly problematic in LAUSD, where over 80 percent of the families it serves live on poverty-level income and more than half have a family member lost a job due to the pandemic, he said.
In many communities in Los Angeles, where the school district has served more than 50 million takeaway meals since classrooms closed on March 16, schools are often used as childcare.
"We are trying to do something in public education that has never been done before," said Beutner. "Online learning has historically been the province of a select few."
The headmaster said it was too early to consider reopening during the fall and winter holidays.
"No, no," he said. "It is too important."
While science says that children rarely develop serious complications from the coronavirus, they can still spread it, and some experts say it would be wise to get the virus under control before millions of children are exposed again .
However, President Donald Trump, recognizing the role of schools in freeing parents from work and reviving trade, has called for the reopening of public schools for the new school year.
He suggested that some districts opposed the reopening to prevent economic recovery after the virus and hence its re-election.
Beutner said he wanted nothing more than to see the district's more than 633,000 students back in class. Her return was derailed by new spikes in coronavirus cases, including new daily records set in Los Angeles County in July.
"We plan to be back in school in May," he said. "June, July, because it was going in the wrong direction, the decision was made of its own accord."
Trump has threatened to pull federal funds from districts that won't be reopened.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Department of Health reported that the 7-day average of positive tests for COVID-19 was 7.4 percent. Beutner said it must be under 5 percent to consider reopening
If the numbers "go in the right direction, we will be ready to return to schools as soon as possible," he said.