Despite Omicron, Los Angeles students are returning to the classroom

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Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the United States, is pushing ahead with plans to open its classrooms for personal learning on Tuesday.

Like other school districts across the country, Los Angeles Unified faces not only uncertainty about the Omicron variant, but politicized tensions over the possibility of a return to distance learning, as well as teacher shortages that are causing schools to scramble.

Most students took in-person classes last fall, connecting with their friends, and tracing back the normalcy they lost nearly two years ago. Now school districts across the United States are trying to find a way forward as coronavirus cases break records again.

Los Angeles public schools had one of the longest closures in the country last school year. The district is stepping up security measures, but officials there seem determined to keep the children in their classrooms.

“We know there is fear, and we’ve added the extra layers of protection for the return to school,” Megan K. Reilly, the interim superintendent, said in a video address Monday. “There can be some lines at the start of the school day and longer wait times for buses.”

Nazli Santana, a mother of two high school students returning to class on Tuesday, said she wishes the district had waited a little longer. “If they could have just closed it for another two weeks, that would have been helpful,” she said.

Last week, the district issued new rules requiring testing as a condition of returning to campus regardless of vaccination status. Schools have organized coronavirus testing and vaccination sites for students and distributed home tests. Masks are mandatory on campus. A vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and older was set to go into effect this week, but enforcement was delayed until the fall.

District data showed that during the week ending Monday, of the roughly 458,000 students and staff members tested, 66,000 had come back positive for the coronavirus, a positivity rate of more than 15 percent — lower than the county, state average. and the land, but still high enough to sound the alarm.

“I’m worried, like many parents are,” said Amanda Santos, whose 7-year-old is going to the district’s first grade.

For months, Mrs. Santos has been monitoring an online dashboard where the borough shares data. For much of the fall semester, the weekly report for her son’s elementary school showed only a few positive cases at a time. But during the winter break, she saw that number shoot into the tens.

That was worrisome, Mrs. Santos said. But she added that schools seemed cautious about safety and good at informing parents. “They don’t allow anyone who has a positive test, or who doesn’t test, on campus,” she said. “So I feel safe with that.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, the chairman of the local teachers’ union, said in a statement Monday that the district is “in a better position than most in the country” because of the security measures it has put in place.

“This week will be stressful and there will be disruptions,” she added. “Nobody has a script for the moment.”

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