As the Los Angeles Unified School District starts a new academic year this week via online learning it’s pairing that with a hugely ambitious testing and tracing program that Superintendent Austin Beutner called the best chance to get back into the classroom.
Beutner announced plans to test the almost 75,000 staff and 700,000 students in the nation’s second largest school district (after New York City) and stands ready to test family members who show symptoms of COVID-19, which has pushed most major school districts in the nation (except New York) to remain online this fall. LAUDS opens this week with the first full day of classes on Thursday and Friday.
“Without tests the chain of infection cannot be broken,” Beutner said in his weekly address — noting that students and staff have regular contact with two to three million other people. LAUSD’s testing will be overseen by experts from the University of California, Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins and Stanford University. Microsoft will provide software for contact tracing. Insurers Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net will provide health related data and processing.
Beutner said he will lead the initiative with Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, who will coordinate with other government agencies on the findings and public policy implications of the program.
Beutner called the effort “unprecedented” but said it’s the only way “to get kids back to school sooner and safer and keep them there.” If it works it could be a model for other school districts across the country, he said.
“Extraordinary, circumstances call for extraordinary actions,” said Beutner, one of the first big city superintendents to announce in July that classes would be online. Los Angeles like everyone other municipality in the nation shut its schools last March. Beutner said LAUSD has worked closely with PBS on targeted educational programming.
He said the testing would cost about $300 per student.
COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on essential workers, many of the same people served by LAUSD, which has 82% Black and Latino students.