Members of the union representing Los Angeles Unified School District teachers will vote next week on a proposed statement of opposition to reopening campuses for in-person instruction until COVID-19 case rates sink further and school staff are vaccinated or given access to the shots.
The union vote, set for Monday through Friday next week, is in response to increasing pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom to resume in-person classes for pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students in counties that have reached an average daily new COVID case rate of 25 or less per 100,000 residents. Los Angeles County’s rate is 20 per 100,000 residents.
“If you care about women, (if) you care about moms, particularly single mothers, there’s nothing more essential and more important we can do to support working women and single moms in particular than getting our youngest kids back into school in cohorts where we can do it safely,” Newsom said during an appearance in Long Beach on Monday.
State guidelines give school districts and individual private schools the option of resuming in-person instruction for students up to grade six in counties that meet the 25-case threshold. Districts that want to resume such classes must submit safety plans to the county, and thus far, about a dozen L.A. County districts have had such plans approved, along with more than 170 private or charter schools.
LAUSD is one of the districts with approved safety plans, but its campuses remain closed, with the United Teachers Los Angeles union insisting that school staff be vaccinated before returning. Superintendent Austin Beutner has supported the union in that call, but he said Monday he’s targeting April 9 to have on-campus classes operating again.
He also said the district next week will resume on-campus instruction for small groups of special-needs students and athletic conditioning activities, both of which were cut off late last year when COVID cases began surging in the county in November.
UTLA leaders said Monday the push to get return to schools a “political” move not based on science.
“It is unfortunate that educators are being targeted, and the pressure of preventing an unsafe return falls to us while our students and their families face economic devastation, illness and death,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said. “Local and state officials did not create the right conditions to return to schools for in-person instruction. They prioritized indoor malls, outdoor dining, gyms and card rooms while infection rates soared and school buildings remained closed. Now educators are being vilified for trying to protect our students and our communities.”
The union repeated its assertion that while L.A. County’s overall case rate has dropped, the numbers are skewed by dramatically low rates in wealthier neighborhoods, while some lower-income areas served by the LAUSD have rates that are 15 times higher than more affluent areas.
Union members will vote next week to formally take a position that they will refuse a full or hybrid return to in-person instruction until three conditions are met:
— Los Angeles County’s average daily new COVID case rate drops to seven per 100,000 residents, allowing the county to move out of the restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s economic-reopening matrix;
— all school staff returning to in-person work “are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination”; and
— safety measures are in place at schools such as protective equipment, social distancing, ventilation and “a cleaning regimen.”
“Educators are working harder than ever. We want to be with our students. But this disease is ripping families apart and devastating our communities,” Myart-Cruz said. “The lack of political will from our elected officials to provide the right conditions now, unfortunately, puts educators and school communities in harm’s way.”
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will make teachers eligible for COVID-19 shots beginning Monday, along with other essential workers such as those in agriculture/food service and law enforcement. The LAUSD has proposed operating a mass vaccination site at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood dedicated to inoculating school workers.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that schools opting to reopen will have to enforce face-covering and social distancing requirements, and students will be limited to small, fixed groups, meaning students will be with the same group of classmates every day, with no interaction with any other students. Schools will also have to maintain regular virus-testing programs, have approved ventilation systems and must immediately report any instances of three infections that occur within a 14-day period.