Ever since it was announced that LA county schools would remain closed for the fall, parents have been searching for ways to make distance learning more effective and regain a sense of normalcy for their children. Parents have sought out safe socialization opportunities, since their children no longer have the opportunity interact with their peers in a school setting. Parents have also sought out safe in-person instructional support to help their children receive an appropriate and effective education during the school closures. Parents began to organize learning pods, small groups of children who would gather to receive in-person learning support. Up until Tuesday, it was unclear whether learning pods were permitted and, if so, which rules and guidelines applied to these small-group learning environments. On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, the California Department of Public Health released guidance which provided some much-needed clarity regarding learning pods, or “cohorts” as they are referred to in the department memo, for parents and educators.
The purpose of the August 25 guidance is to set rules and guidelines for necessary in-person child supervision, instruction, support services, and facilitation of distance learning in small group environments that are consistent with the practices needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This guidance applies to groups of children in programs operated by local education agencies, nonprofits, and “other authorized providers” which includes public and private schools, child care settings, recreation programs, before and after school programs, youth groups, and day camps.
The guidance states that children and supervising adults must be in groups as small as possible and groups may not exceed 14 children and two supervising adults. It further explains that these groups can be divided as needed into smaller groups, as long as the smaller groups do not exceed the 14-2 ratio. It is essential that, while in a supervised care environment, the children and adults in one group do not physically interact with children and adults in other groups. To that end, it is advised that children who live or carpool together be placed in the same group. It is also advised that children not be moved from onegroup to another, unless needed for safety and wellness.
The guidance sets strict rules regarding group size that take into account part-time participation in these groups. The guidance states that the maximum group size applied to all children in the group, even when all children are not participating at the same time. This means that the total number of children who are allowed to participate in one group is 14 and that another child may not substitute into the group if a member is absent. For example, the following situation is not permitted: 6 children attend the group full-time, 6 children attend part-time on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and 6 children attend part-time on Tuesday/Thursday. Even though there are only 12 children present at any given time, there are 18 children total who are participating in the group. This exceeds the maximum of 14.
The guidance states that one-to-one specialized services (including occupational therapy, speech services, behavioral services, or targeted intervention educational support) can be provided to a child by a support services provider that is not part of the child’s learning group.
Finally, the guidance states that physical distancing between adults must be maintained and that physical distancing between children is encouraged to the extent that it is balanced with the developmental and socio-emotional needs of the children. Both adults and children must use face coverings at all times.
It remains to be seen how school districts will react to this new guidance. However, any parents who enroll their children in learning pods or cohorts should be aware of this guidance when considering different learning options.