UTLA Statement: LAUSD schools are still not safe to physically reopen

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LOS ANGELES – Given the still too-high transmission rates of the coronavirus and a lack of funding to implement uniform health and safety protocols, UTLA remains firm that LAUSD school campuses are not safe to reopen at this time. 

LA County remains in the “purple” zone – meaning there is widespread COVID-19 transmission in our communities. While in the purple zone, all schools in the county are supposed to remain closed. However, the County Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 29 for a limited number of waivers to be granted to schools for transitional kindergarten through second grade classes. 

With such widespread community transmission, including illness and death, from COVID-19, the LA County Board of Supervisors should hold school safety plans to a very high standard before granting any waivers — a standard that may be impossible for schools to achieve, given the grotesque underfunding of California public schools.

“Without a uniform plan for the safe reopening of our schools, the lives of educators, school staff, students, and their families remain at risk,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “We know some of our most vulnerable students — our younger students, those with special needs and English Language Learners —  are more acutely impacted by remote learning challenges.  But we also know that it is those same students’ communities — predominantly communities of color living in poverty — that are most acutely impacted by this deadly virus. It is not easy for educators to see any student struggling. But we must let science and these realities guide our actions.”

UTLA is currently meeting with the district to discuss one-on-one services on campus for our neediest students and how to ensure such a program is safe and effective. The program would be on a volunteer basis and afterschool. 

UTLA’s health and safety expectations for reopening schools or any afterschool in-person services are that the proper resources and policies (including testing, tracing, personal protective gear, disinfection protocols, and proper ventilation) must be in place before we reopen our schools. We stand strongly in favor of the highest safety measures.

 “COVID-19 is unlike anything we have ever seen before,” Myart-Cruz said. “The disease has killed more than 200,000 people in this country and spreads through our communities rapidly. Workers are being asked to risk their lives every day, and communities of color suffer the most. Nationally, Black and Latino children are number one in infection and death rates for children from COVID-19. The implications of this inequity are profound for LAUSD, where 90% of our students are of color and where many of our students’ parents have essential jobs that put them more at risk.” 

Working families who do not have the fortune to work from home have experienced how this disease can impact their families and communities. Some of them have seen firsthand a family member gasping for every breath, have watched in fear as an ambulance takes a loved one away alone — because this disease is so contagious that people must be taken to the hospital without any family to support them.

And these disparities are almost certainly why, in survey after survey of parents, there is a clear racial and income divide on school reopening preferences. Although parents of color and low-income parents are most concerned about how remote learning will affect their children's schooling, they are also most likely to consider it necessary for right now. One survey found that almost twice as many Black, Latino, and Asian parents wanted schools to be remote, compared to white parents. A majority of parents who made less than $50,000 a year wanted schools to avoid in-person instruction for the entire school year. See survey results here.