L.A. schools announce massive COVID-19 testing, tracing initiative for all students, staff

L.A. schools announce massive COVID-19 testing, tracing initiative for all students, staff

Los Angeles Unified School District staff member Adrian Pacheco demonstrates the use of sanitizing tools

Los Angeles Unified School District staff member Adrian Pacheco demonstrates the use of sanitizing tools as Supt. Austin Beutner takes a tour of Burbank Middle School. As the academic school year looms, preparations have been under way to make campuses safe. <span class="copyright">(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)</span>
Los Angeles Unified School District staff member Adrian Pacheco demonstrates the use of sanitizing tools as Supt. Austin Beutner takes a tour of Burbank Middle School. As the academic school year looms, preparations have been under way to make campuses safe. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Sunday said it was launching an ambitious coronavirus testing and contact tracing program for all students and staff aiming to create a path to safely reopening campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district.

If the plan comes to fruition as described, it would be one of the most extensive to date for an American school district. It remains unclear, however, how quickly it would be implemented and when in-person learning could resume.

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner outlined the plan in an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times published Sunday, saying “the goal is to get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community.”

Beutner said the district hopes to be able to test all students and staff as part of a partnership that includes UCLA, Stanford and Johns Hopkins University, Microsoft, Anthem Blue Cross and HealthNet, among others. He said the testing would cost roughly $300 per student over a year.

“We are currently fine tuning systems and operational logistics. Then we will begin providing tests to staff currently working at schools as well as to any of their children participating in childcare provided for Los Angeles Unified staff,” he wrote. “Tests will then be provided for all staff and students over a period of weeks to establish a baseline. On an ongoing basis, sample testing based on epidemiological models will be done for each cohort of staff and students.”

The move comes amid growing concerns from parents about a fall semester of online learning for the district’s 700,000 students. A Times survey published last week showed poor students generally fare much worse than more affluent students.

Last week, the Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a plan that will restore structure to the academic schedule while also allowing for an online school day that is shorter than the traditional one.

The plan leaves some parents and advocates in the nation’s second-largest school system wanting more teaching hours. There also are parents who want fewer mandatory screen-time hours for their young children — a reflection of the complexities of distance learning and the widespread parent angst over the start of the school year next week at home, online.

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