Catholic school students in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will be heading back to the classroom this fall in accordance with public health protocols after having spent the final months of the 2019-2020 school year receiving instruction through "distance learning" amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown.

“Our goal is to strike a balance between preventing the spread of COVID-19 and providing our students with the education, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health benefits offered through the reopening of Catholic schools,” said Senior Director and Superintendent of Catholic Schools Paul Escala in a June 16 letter to Catholic schools.

To do that, Escala said that each school in the archdiocese will have to customize a safety plan specific to the needs of their campus. Expected protocols include: physical distancing, facial coverings, frequent hand washing, keeping students in class-level cohorts, use of outdoor spaces for instruction, and non-touch temperature checks upon entry, among others measures.

Escala said that "some schools may see changes to their daily and weekly schedules, integrate technology into lessons, use campus spaces differently, set-up classroom furniture in a new way and other approaches to accommodate these new protocols."

Still, due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, schools will be asked to prepare distance learning plans should they become necessary.

Additional details will be presented to school principals and presidents forthcoming which will be based on the state and county public health department’s guidance and input from school leaders, the letter said.

While stressing the importance of such measures, Escala also acknowledged that "by the time the new school year starts, students will have been away from their schools for five months" and that "the impact of missing in-person learning over many months cannot be ignored."

"Yet," he added, "we are all concerned that returning could bring health risks to our children, educators and the community."

Escala had some good news for schools as they begin the planning process to resume classes in a few months.

“The lack of funds to purchase personal protective equipment should not prevent a school from opening in-person, nor students from learning together,” said Mr. Escala in the letter. “We have secured financial support from our philanthropic partners to ensure schools who serve our most impoverished students have the necessary personal protective equipment for their students and staff.”

Archdiocesan schools transitioned to distance learning on March 17, 2020, as schools throughout the state were urged to close in response to the threat of COVID-19. Teachers, staff and leaders of the elementary and high schools of the Archdiocese responded rapidly to ensure that students they serve never stopped learning. Forty Archdiocesan schools have served more than 500,000 meals to children no matter which school they attend since the pandemic began, serving about 18,000 meals per day to children in low-income areas.