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LAUSD Chief: COVID-19 Numbers Must Come Down Before Schools Reopen

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Public schools in Los Angeles are not ready to reopen for in-person learning because COVID-19 cases remain elevated, school officials said Monday.

In a briefing Monday morning, Superintendent Austin Beutner said despite nearly half a year of students being out of the classroom, even challenges posed by virtual learning will not accelerate their return.

"It's now been more than six months since students were in schools, and the learning loss for some may be significant," Beutner said. "But schools have to balance the learning needs of students with the health and safety of all in the school community."

Beutner emphasized that in-person classes will not resume before at least Nov. 1, at the very earliest.

"Schools cannot open until the overall level of the virus is much lower," Beutner said. "We're dependent upon state and local health authorities to put in place and maintain the appropriate guidelines to manage this."

"Losing a year of school has profound impacts throughout their whole lives," Dr. Gary Painter, USC professor of public policy, told CBSLA Monday. "There are families with resources that are gonna be able to make up the difference. But where I'm particularly concerned is exasperating the inequality that already exists in our society."

Beutner also released more details about a new $150 million coronavirus program to test all teachers and students in the district, including information on a new app being built by Microsoft that students will need to use to get on their campuses every day.

All students and staff will undergo two baseline tests: one sometime in October before schools reopen, and a second right after.

Once they are back in school, students and teachers will take part in periodic testing.

Testing appointments will be made online and the entire process is expected to only take 10 minutes, Beutner said. People can either choose a nasal swab or saliva test. Results will be provided within 24 to 48 hours.

The results will be confidential and stored in a secure database that is only shared with administrators, health authorities and scientists from institutions including UCLA and Johns Hopkins who are planning and overseeing the program.

"All results will be confidential, and the information will be kept in a separate, secure database to be shared only with the appropriate scientists, administrators and health authorities," Beutner said.

Beutner also disclosed that Microsoft is building a mobile and desktop app which students, employees and visitors will be able to use to come onto campus every day. The app will be available in early October.

"Much like one uses an electronic ticket to attend a Dodger game or to get on an airplane at LAX," Beutner said.

The app will include a daily symptom self-check form. If there are any caution signs or indications of the virus, the individual can be immediately connected to health professionals.

"An individual who tests negative for COVID-19 can use the app to complete a daily survey and be provided with a daily pass which allows them to return to schools," Beutner said.

LAUSD did not immediately confirm to CBSLA whether students and staff will be able to opt out of the testing, or whether participation will be required in order to get back on campuses.

Testing for the whole year will cost the district about $300 per student, with each individual test coming in at a cost of $31. Family members of students who show symptoms or who have been exposed will also be able to get tested.

L.A. County is currently in the purple tier, the lowest, of the state's four-tiered coronavirus metric system. Purple categorizes the virus as "widespread." However, L.A. has made progress in combatting the virus and could be moved up to red tier as early as this week, which would pave the way to eventually reopen schools.

As of last week, almost 15,000 tests have been conducted among staff who were currently working on campuses and their children, who are in childcare programs at those schools.

Of the 14,867 tests conducted, only 26 people tested positive.

LAUSD has close to 700,000 students and nearly 75,000 teachers and employees working across 1,386 schools.

"Targeting a population of 700,000 kids, you're talking about more than 2 million people that are close family members associated with those kids," Painter said. "That is one-fifth of L.A. County. So this will have substantial impacts on our ability to know how quickly the virus might be spreading and help us as a county to get the virus under control."

Earlier this month, the L.A. County Department of Public Health gave permission for K-12 schools to welcome back students with extra needs, including those studying English as a second language and those that "needing assessments or specialized in-school services."

However, LAUSD has not yet given the OK for those students to come back to class.

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