LOS ANGELES — About 130,000 Los Angeles Unified students — approximately one-third of district enrollment — have been absent from school during the first days back from winter break, ushering in another chapter of disruption in the nation's second-largest school system.

In addition, teachers and employee absences have remained high, so office administrators and substitute teachers have had to staff classrooms. All schools have remained open for in-person learning this week. During a welcome event at Elysian Heights Elementary Arts Magnet, incoming Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district will continue to push information to parents that Los Angeles schools are safe.

"They are safe places because of the protective measures that are in place here," Carvalho said. "Parents need to understand that, they need to bring kids to school."

He said the issues confronting LAUSD amid surging coronavirus rates are also hitting his home school district of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, with disruptive school conditions elevating student absentee rates and squeezing an already tight school labor market.

School board President Kelly Gonez said she understood the fear among many parents who aren't ready to send their children back to in-person learning because of the high number of coronavirus cases.

"Yes, our positivity rates are higher to start the spring semester, but we're seeing that trend in a positive direction," Gonez said, referencing a downward trend in L.A. Unified students testing positive this week.

On Tuesday, when school campuses reopened, 17% of students and 15% of LAUSD staff tested positive for the coronavirus, the district said. On Thursday, 15.6% of students tested positive while 13.3% of staff tested positive. The district operates the most ambitious school coronavirus testing program in the nation, with more than 500,000 mandatory tests administered every week for all students and staff.

Carvalho said that data trends showing the omicron surge is likely to subside in coming weeks will bring greater stability among staff and student attendance. He cautioned against moving too quickly to relax safety protocols in schools, saying he's "concerned about the fact that as soon as conditions improve a little bit, we let our guard down, we go back to where we used to be."

"We cannot allow that to happen," he continued. "At stake is the viability of schools being open."

Carvalho affirmed his support of the district's efforts to keep schools open for in-person learning saying the board "has done everything right in terms of protective actions for the benefit of students."

Carvalho did not specify when he would officially take over as superintendent. He said he would move to Los Angeles sometime in early to mid-February to provide transition for the Florida school district where he led as superintendent for 13 years.

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©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Copyright 2022 Tribune Content Agency.

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