February 22, 2021Statement
LOS ANGELES — Let’s be clear: the pressure building to return to schools is political. It is not science. Returning to schools without proper health and safety protections will expose our children and our educators to COVID-19, putting families at risk of illness and death.
“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,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “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.”
People who are pushing an unsafe return are personally attacking union leaders and educators in order to unsuccessfully drive a wedge between educators and the community. UTLA remains committed in the face of mounting political pressure to make it safe to save lives.
Next week, from March 1-5, UTLA members will be voting on the issue of a safe return to in-person instruction. They will be voting to refuse to return to a full or hybrid return to in-person instruction unless three conditions are met:
- LA County must be out of the purple tier.
- All staff required to return to in-person work are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination.
- Safety conditions are in place in our schools, such as PPE, 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.”
We know parents feel deeply on both sides of the issue, but while LA County remains in the purple tier and with too-high infection rates , 66% — almost two-thirds — of parents want to stay with remote learning. That aligns with national polling data that shows that most parents do not want to send their children to physical schools during a life-threatening pandemic.
“Some elected officials are pushing for a rushed and premature reopening without considering the disproportionate impacts their actions will have on our communities of color,” said Jazmin García, LAUSD parent and leader in East Side Padres Contra La Privatización and Reclaim Our Schools LA.
“Right now, the focus should be on helping families that lost their jobs as result of COVID19, lost a family member, are dealing with the longer lasting health impacts, or struggling to pay rent. Instead, the focus is on a rushed return to school, exposing our already vulnerable community even more, when vaccines are NOT available to all school personnel or parents,” García said.
Here are some of the reasons it is currently unsafe to return to in-person instruction:
- LA County remains in the purple tier, and the communities we serve are at greater risk than others. Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander residents are dying at disproportionately higher rates and getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates. The COVID-19 death rate among Latinx families in L.A. County is three times the rate for white residents.
- The overall LA County case rate does not reflect the infection levels in the LAUSD community. The state threshold for to return to elementary schools is 25 cases per 100,000 people, and that figure includes wealthy communities such as La Cañada, which has a level of less than 2 cases per 100,000. Many of the communities we serve have levels of the virus 15 times greater than those in La Cañada.
- Safety standards are being eroded. In November, the Department of Public Health said it was unsafe to return to schools until cases were below 7 per 100,000. Suddenly, Gavin Newsom and the Department of Public Health claim it’s safe to return to elementary schools at 25 cases per 100,000 people. Why the change? One major factor is pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, which want our students’ parents to go back to work, regardless the danger to their or their families’ health.
- Troubling new COVID-19 developments are not being taken seriously. LA County has reported a more than 35% increase in children with MIS-C, a rare and potentially fatal inflammatory syndrome. Latino children account for 72% of the reported cases. And the new virus variants in our communities are much more transmissible, may be more fatal, and could be more resistant to the vaccines, increasing the possibility of reinfection and another community surge in infections.