March 1, 2021Statement
From Washington DC to Sacramento to LA, the failure by our elected officials to get this deadly pandemic under control has brought COVID-19 to our doorstep. LA is the epicenter of both the virus infection rates and the return-to-school debate.
Once again, educators are being asked to make up for those leadership failings — including a failure to properly fund and support our schools and our most vulnerable students and communities. Educators are being unfairly targeted by wealthier and healthier people who are not experiencing this disease in the same way as students and families in our communities. If this were a rich person’s disease, we would have seen a very different response. We would not have the high rate of infections and deaths.
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income Black and Brown communities do,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz.
Now, educators are asked instead to sacrifice the health and safety of our students and their families as well as our own. While educators are hard at work to make conditions better through crisis distance learning, we are experiencing increased pressure to return under unsafe conditions from many directions.
But that doesn’t change our stance. Our goals for a safe physical return to schools remain the same: One: LA County must be out of the purple tier. Two: Staff required to return to in-person work must be either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination. Three: Safety conditions must be in place in our schools, such as PPE, social distancing, ventilation, and a cleaning regimen.
“We know this is a difficult time of suffering for so many families who do not feel like their voices have been heard,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “We are working hard on behalf of them, our students and their families. Until we are out of the purple tier, until staff has been given access to vaccines, and until we have robust health and safety measures at each school — such as access to PPE, social distancing, ventilation, and a cleaning regimen — we will not accept an arbitrary date to return to school.”
On Monday, March 1, state legislators released a revised plan to try to force schools to physically reopen even if conditions are unsafe. Unfortunately, the plan reverts to the deeply flawed idea in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal in December to offer school districts more money if they open faster.
This would send extra dollars to affluent areas that are able to reopen because of low infection rates, leaving students from low-income communities of color behind.
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income Black and Brown communities do,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”
The state’s new plan does not supersede UTLA’s legal right to bargain working conditions with LAUSD and our continued determination to do so. Bargaining on a hybrid return between UTLA and LAUSD continues this week.
Additionally, this week, UTLA members will vote on the three conditions necessary for a safe return to in-person instruction for our members, students and their families. Voting started today at 8 am and will go through Friday at 5 pm. We will announce the results of the vote on Friday night.
Vaccinations are a critical step forward to getting back in-person teaching and learning with our students, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. We are making progress but we are not there yet. The revised state plan comes with news that an additional number of vaccines have been set aside for LAUSD. We are encouraged by this progress.
LA County remains in the purple tier — the tier that indicates high test positivity rates and a high risk for widespread infection. And we know the numbers are even more severe for the communities that our schools serve.
In La Cañada, for example, the average household income exceeds $175,000 and COVID case levels are less than 2 per 100,000 people. In the community of South LA served by our schools, the average household income is less than $30,000 and the COVID rate is more than 15 times greater than La Cañada. Two different LA County communities, two vastly different experiences.
“Even as the number of COVID-19 deaths declines, Latino residents of Los Angeles County are still dying at three times the rate of white residents. UTLA members center our students in everything we do. This fight for health and safety is part of that commitment,” said Myart-Cruz.