LOS ANGELES - Amid surging COVID-19 cases, thousands of Los Angeles County children resumed in-person classes Monday, but with tightened safety protocols, while Los Angeles Unified announced all of its students and employees must be tested before returning to campuses next week.
To help accommodate the testing requirement, the LAUSD announced the start of the spring semester for K-12 students will be pushed back to Tuesday, Jan. 11. District employees will return to campuses Monday for a ``Pupil Free Day.''
The changes were announced hours after the LAUSD Board of Education held an abruptly scheduled closed-door meeting Monday morning.
According to the district, students and employees can get tested at district sites starting immediately, with appointments available online at lausd.net/covidtestingappt or by calling 213-443-1300. Walk-in testing is also available at district sites, and at-home testing kits will be available for students beginning Friday.
Students and employees can also get tested at non-district sites, but they must upload results onto the district's Daily Pass system no later than Sunday.
Students and employees at LAUSD campuses and all other schools in the county will also be subject to stricter COVID safety protocols, which were announced on New Year's Eve by the county Department of Public Health.
The rules require all students and staff to wear masks outdoors``where physical distancing is not feasible,'' and employees must wear upgraded surgical or higher-level masks instead of cloth ones.
The new rules recommend, but do not require, students to wear non- cloth masks ``with a nose wire.'' The requirement for upgraded masks -- which must be provided to staff by districts -- will take effect two weeks after schools reopen.
The revised protocols from the county also include a ``strong recommendation for all eligible staff and students to receive a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in addition to their primary vaccine series.''
COVID testing is also required ``for all close contacts who are permitted to remain in school immediately after exposure, regardless of vaccination or booster status.''
Among the districts that resumed classes Monday was the Burbank Unified School District, where parents didn't learn until late Sunday if their children would be returning to campus. The district's Board of Education held a 3 1/2-hour emergency meeting Sunday night to consider delaying the start of classes for a week in light of the surge in infections.
Late Sunday night, Superintendent Matt Hill announced on the district's Facebook page the decision to restart classes as scheduled, writing, ``After a robust discussion, the Board of Education decided that schools remain open.''
The district's administrators will consider changes in its COVID safety plan this week, including possible mandatory testing for students and staff and enforcing a vaccine booster requirement for all employees by April 1.
LAUSD recently opted to delay enforcement of its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students until the fall, with officials saying they hoped to improve the roughly 87% vaccination rate before forcing non-compliant students into remote learning.
The district will continue to require baseline and weekly testing of all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, through January. Beginning in February, only unvaccinated students will be required to undergo weekly testing.
LAUSD's COVID testing centers reopened Monday with extended hours, offering tests by appointment and on a walk-in basis. The state is also making at-home COVID tests available to all students in California.
In a Twitter post Friday, district officials wrote that LAUSD ``maintains the highest COVID-19 safety standards of any public school district in the nation: weekly testing of all staff and students; universal masking, indoors and outdoors; comprehensive sanitizing efforts; frequent hand-washing; upgraded air-filtration systems; regular, ongoing COVID-19 testing and community engagement; physical distancing as much as possible; and collaboration with health partners and agencies to support free COVID-19 vaccinations.''
``We will adapt our safety standards as needed in order to remain responsive to the changing conditions of the pandemic,'' the district said.