The Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing teachers announced a tentative agreement Monday on how to proceed with distance learning this fall, with efforts focused on providing a structured school day as campuses remain closed due to the coronavirus.
United Teachers Los Angeles and the LAUSD came to the tentative agreement late Sunday. The proposal will go before the school board for a vote Tuesday and move to a vote of union members next week. If approved, it will remain in effect through Dec. 31 or until students are back on campuses for regular instruction.
In the meantime, school campuses will physically remain closed. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the academic year will still start the week of Aug. 17 — although actual instruction will not actually begin until Aug. 20, following several orientation days. No date has been set for resuming on-campus learning, with Beutner saying the risk remains too high. But he stated: “Our goal is to have students back in schools as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
On Monday, Beutner and labor representatives detailed some of the fall plans that are designed to support teachers and staff members who are deemed essential workers under state guidelines.
The work plan for the 2020-21 school year, Beutner noted, was created by bringing together students and families, teachers and staff, school leaders, labor partners and community organizations that met with health experts, reviewed ideas from other school districts and coordinated with state and local health and education authorities.
“The goal is to have as much teacher-led interaction with students as possible,” Beutner said, noting that revamped distance learning — mostly online — “will have more structure and standards and increased interaction between teachers and students.”
Schools will provide one-on-one support both in person and online, for students who need it most, he said.
Highlights of the tentative agreement reached between the two sides include: an average school day from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.; targeted small group instruction; daily attendance; opportunities for small group and independent student work; social emotional support; instructional training; flexibility for teachers to work on campus or from home; and office hours for students and families to connect with teachers.
“When LAUSD campuses closed in March, educators, parents and students had to adapt to an emergency moment, and over just a few days,” UTLA Bargaining Co-Chair Arlene Inouye said. “This time, it was important to think through the challenges and to incorporate feedback from that experience — using information from a parent and member survey and feedback from members — which is reflected in this final agreement.”
LAUSD also will continue to ensure that every student has a device and internet connection at home, Beutner said.
“The first few days of school will be spent continuing to train teachers and giving them time to plan together for the start of instruction. We’ll also use that time to make sure students are connected with their school, have a chance to meet their teachers and have the devices and internet access and the appropriate textbooks and instructional materials.”
Beutner promised that students at all levels would have “consistent schedules” with clear sets of expectations for teachers, students and families. Resource guides and checklists will be included with instructional materials.
Teachers also will be provided with childcare.
“In order to support all who work in schools, we will be providing childcare at schools for those who are working at school sites,” he said, noting that schools are being cleaned and supplied with personal protective equipment for those workers and their children — practices that will continue once all students are able to come back to the classroom.
UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz and Beutner issued a joint statement regarding the tentative agreement: “Since schools closed, Los Angeles Unified has set the standard for food relief for families, while working diligently to provide devices and internet access for all students, professional development for educators, and the opportunity for all students to participate in summer school. We have all learned from our experiences with distance learning since March and we’ve applied what we learned to this agreement. Our shared goal is to provide the best possible education for students in our schools.”
When schools are open to all, Beutner said there will be a need to keep students farther apart with fewer students on campus at any one time, possibly requiring a hybrid model of in-school and at-home, online instruction.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground today,” Beutner said about the fall semester plans being announced. “This is an enormous undertaking for schools, as well as for the students and families they serve. There will be questions and, as we’ve seen since March, circumstances can change quickly. We’ll do our best to keep everyone informed with regular town hall and school meetings, as well as ongoing surveys and focus groups to make sure we’re learning about concerns and continuing to address them.”
Labor representatives said they will be back at the bargaining table if a hybrid model becomes possible this fall.
“We feel good about what we were able to get approved in this tentative agreement,” Inouye said. “The hybrid model or any other kind of model will be negotiated after this. … We will continue to bargain the effects on the eventual physical return to the on-site structure.”
Beutner emphasized that the new school year is an opportunity for students to continue to learn, even though it will require a different approach and extraordinary effort.
“While the doors to classrooms will not be open in August, it’s our goal to provide the best education possible for students so they continue to have the same opportunity. Thanks for your continued patience and support,” he said.
The school board on Tuesday also is expected to consider putting a $7 billion school facilities bond before voters in November.