With school campuses remaining closed this fall, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to explore using county parks and libraries as alternative learning sites for children in unincorporated areas.
Supervisor Janice Hahn recommended identifying safe spaces for children who cannot stay at home to access computers and participate in distance learning.
"In the middle of this worsening pandemic, distance learning is our safest option right now, but this is untenable for parents who can't work from home and some of our most vulnerable families," Hahn said.
"We have been able to run summer day camps at our county parks safely this year despite the pandemic. I hope we can use a similar model to utilize our parks to provide safe, supervised spaces for kids to do their distance learning while they can't be in the classroom."
Los Angeles County is one of the counties on the state's watch list and will not be able to return to in-classroom learning in August. Hahn said there is a gap between what schools can provide and what families need, in terms of internet access and technology, as well as daytime supervision.
The county's new parks and recreation director was optimistic.
"Parks have been available to support our county families during this pandemic and are ready to fill the gap for parents who are integrating back into the workplace and looking for a safe, supportive environment for their children," Department of Parks and Recreation Director Norma Garcia said. "We understand that there are limited options for school-age kids, and we are happy to look into our department's capacity to serve as alternate learning locations."
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County parks have WiFi access and libraries have been supporting students with online homework support, reading activities and grab-and-go summer lunches. It may be possible for library community rooms and outdoors spaces to be used by students and parents.
"I know that this won't be an easy fix," Hahn said. "This have never been done before. But we are in unprecedented times and we need to meet them with unprecedented and creative solutions for our residents."
The board directed employees from the parks, library, county education, public health and internal services departments to come back with a plan in 30 days to provide appropriate staffing, supervision and supplemental programming at county sites for children in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The board also approved a motion co-authored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas recommending the county press Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to provide more support for distance learners, especially vulnerable youth.
"The closure of schools in L.A. County has severely impacted families and students and has further exacerbated the digital divide in our communities,'' Barger said.
"The communities experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases and unemployment due to extended closures are the same communities that are negatively impacted by distance learning."
Barger emphasized extra support for students with special needs, those who need access to mental health care and English language learners.
The county plans to ask for help in offering access to community centers for students, as well as keeping child care centers open.
Ridley-Thomas said some students and families need more help than others.
"We know that learning is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, so we must be attentive to the gaps in resources to serve the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of every child," Ridley-Thomas said.
"This motion seeks to address the barriers families and children face
in this critical moment."
The board also directed the CEO to work with other departments to expand public access to WiFi.