February 5, 2021President's Perspective
February 5, 2021 Facebook Live Transcript
Good afternoon, UTLA family — educators, parents, community members. Thank you for joining us today! I love going through the chat after the session is over and reading all the comments and conversations, so thank you again for being here.
After the week we’ve had, I will begin with a simple insight: Schools are open and students and educators are working. The only thing closed are the buildings.
Some folx seem confused so I’ll say it again: Schools are open and students and educators are working. The only thing closed are the buildings.
Okay, so lots to talk about today, including a nurses’ sideletter agreement reached late last night with the district, clearing the record on reckless calls for reopening and what it will truly take for us to be united for a safe and racially just reopening.
Distance learning is tough. Living in this pandemic is brutal. We all want to return to physical schools. But we are getting mixed messages and straight up misinformation and disinformation. I wish to set the record straight.
To everyone watching and listening right now: The call to immediately reopen schools for in-person instruction is not motivated by science — it is motivated by politics.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines, he should also tell us what he believes a safe number of deaths associated with that would be.
People are willfully ignoring the science and facts to score political points or, let’s be honest, to try to knock educators and unions down a peg. We will not allow this.
So let’s be clear away the politics and look at the science.
First. It is not safe. At no point since school buildings have been closed since last March has LA County been out of the purple tier — the highest possible level. Purple means there is widespread COVID-19 transmission in the county.
Second. Mixed messages. In November, Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was unsafe to reopen schools and that all teachers should be vaccinated. Now, in February, infection rates are six times higher than they were in November but Newsom has changed his tune and now says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines for educators.
Third. Schools in the purple tier should not reopen. Studies show that schools are safe IF community transmission is under control and mitigation measures are in place. That's not the case in LA County. LA County is still in the purple tier.
Some folx seem confused so I’ll say it again: Schools are open and students and educators are working. The only thing closed are the buildings.
Fourth. Children have a higher rate of asymptomatic infection. In LAUSD, the only school district in the state to offer widespread COVID testing - 1 in 3 children have tested positive for COVID19. So the claims that transmission does not occur in schools are often based on studies that share a vital flaw – incomplete contact tracing due to a lack of surveillance testing of often asymptomatic students. Saying no cases were found when systematic testing is not happening, particularly when community spread is high, is not a foundation on which to base a widespread return to in-person instruction.
We must take politics out of the pandemic. Let’s listen to scientists. Right now, several epidemiologists have been calling for a national lockdown with real financial supports to allow people to stay safe at home, because of these new COVID19 strains, which spread easily and rapidly.
United for a Safe, Racially Just Reopening
It’s time to address some of the harmful rhetoric out there. Everyone is entitled to opinions, but we must be respectful of each other. There are some lines being crossed — whether it’s news anchors, radio hosts or frustrated parents who are spewing hate, racism and misogynistic behavior. And we have to call out the privilege. Not all parents are experiencing this crisis the same way. For too many Black and Brown families, this pandemic has meant economic disaster, the loss of their home, and the death of loved ones.
Saying the temporary trauma from Crisis Distance Learning is greater than the illness and death of family members minimizes the reality that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts poor, Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander families in Los Angeles. Because it is the working class families of LA who suffer the most, our elected county and state officials have made the decision to let this disease run rampant.
Although thankfully, serious illness and death among children are rare, 78% of the children who have died in the US are children of color.
Children have a higher rate of asymptomatic infection. In LAUSD, the only school district in the state to offer widespread COVID testing - 1 in 3 children have tested positive for COVID19. So the claims that transmission does not occur in schools are often based on studies that share a vital flaw – incomplete contact tracing due to a lack of surveillance testing of often asymptomatic students.
I believe if this disease was disproportionately killing white children, parents and grandparents, the response to COVID-19 from our politicians would have looked very different.
Vaccines for school educators and staff, in addition to mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, and low community transmission rates, are a part of the solution to reopen schools safely — and that is the path we continue to pursue. That is the path based on science and the path that puts the health and safety of our school staff, our students, and their families before politics.
Bargaining: Nurses Reach Agreement
Late last night, we reached a side letter agreement with the district for our school nurses to provide vaccinations for school employees if the district secures the vaccines to do so. Recognizing the central role a school nurse plays in the opening and beginning of a school year, the agreement allows nurses to return to their school sites full time one week before school begins. School nurses are already stepping up and working in-person at the school-based testing sites, and this will be an extension of that critical work. Shout-out to the school nurses who joined our bargaining team this week — Lynn Sommer, Cecille Bassilo, Sabrina Gustin, Donna Cross, Stephanie Yellin-Mednick, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Autumn Hickok, and Susan Domingo. UTLA Members, check your email later today with more details and the full side letter agreement.
We continue to bargain over an extension of the calendar for next school year (2021-22). The proposal would add 10 days to provide students with expanded learning opportunities and social-emotional support in recognition of the trauma experienced by students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and physical school closures.
The proposal is being worked through, with an eye toward parameters to ensure that the time would be used effectively to support our students.
The school year extension would be for one year only. UTLA members would be compensated at your regular pay rate, which would amount to roughly a 5% raise for that year, and it would be reportable compensation for CalSTRS, which is impactful for prospective retirees.
If we reach a tentative agreement to extend the school calendar, it will be voted on by UTLA members.
The old normal wasn’t working
It goes without saying that expanded learning time in and of itself is not nearly enough to compensate for the social-emotional impacts of COVID and Crisis Distance Learning.
When we return to our school buildings, the trauma of the pandemic must be met with empathy and care and a transformational amount of funding to lower class size, expand support for special education, and staff our schools with counselors, psychiatric social workers, nurses, pupil services and attendance counselors, teacher librarians, and more.
We can’t simply slip back to the way things were. Our underfunded, under-resourced system was not enough for our students then, and their needs are much more profound now.
As we continue to bargain on targeted in-person services and the safe reopening of school sites, we also strategize for our schools to emerge from our COVID reality stronger than before. That means not just defeating the austerity budgets of cuts and layoffs that we know are coming — it means embracing a vision for building back better.
In the coming months we will be deepening the dialogue about what we as educators are willing to fight for and how we chart a course to win. It’s critical that everyone attend your weekly UTLA Chapter meetings and that your site reactivates or builds your Chapter Action Team or CAT. The basic principle of the CAT team: for every 10 members, there is one person in charge of communicating to these folks and moving them to action. Talk to your chapter chair if you want to step up in this way.
Together we will keep organizing for the healing, healthy, and racially just reopening that our students and communities deserve.
National School Counseling Week
We raise our voice this week to honor our amazing counseling community for National School Counseling Week. Folx out there, put the name of your school’s counselor, PSA, or PSW in the chat. Or if you have a friend or family member who does this vital work, put their name in the chat to say we honor them, we see them, we couldn’t do our work without them!
The pandemic has taxed the social-emotional well being of our students and their ability to connect with school. The past months have often been overwhelming and the needs are profound, but we see you in this difficult time innovating and adapting and continuing to support our students.
Black History Month
I am feeling that this is a Black History Month like no other, coming after a righteous reckoning on racism and the unjust killing of Black people by the police.
We are living history. The Nobel Peace Prize nomination for the Black Lives Matter Movement is history. The Nobel Peace Prize nomination for voting rights activist Stacey Abrams is history.
And we know the truth about Black History Month. It should not be a month — it should be all the time. Year-round we need to mark the achievements of Black people and celebrate those who are still rising and blazing trails. Year-round we need to commit to action — to dismantling the scaffolds on which white supremacy is built‚ including in our systems of education, and to keep pushing ourselves as educators toward anti-racist practices in our schools.
We’ll share some resources in the chat, including a link to Black Lives Matter at Schools, which is building an awesome Year of Purpose to advance abolitionist practice and uproot institutional racism.
On Feb. 1, 1865, the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, was officially passed and inducted into the Constitution. It took a long time, hundreds of thousands of people taking radical steps to overcome. We were not out of the woods, however. Racism morphed into laws, policies, systems and mindsets of superiority. It's not over.
Black Lives Matter at Schools means teaching from an abolitionist framework and teaching our students to critically think about the events in history from a place of trauma, injury and truth.
End Over-Assessments in a Pandemic
Have you made the call to Alison Towery, the head of instruction for LAUSD, to stop forcing the unnecessary and disruptive Edulastic and Renaissance assessments on educators and students?
Rebecca Wareham teaches fourth and fifth grade at Bellingham Elementary. She says that when it comes to these assessments, her students are often frustrated by tech issues, like slow internet speeds that make loading the tests difficult and slow. Oftentimes the problem solving is beyond what a 9- or 10-year old child can do alone at home to fix it. And she also says that students are simply frustrated about taking further assessments. Even though Rebecca, in a perfect teacher pro-tip, frames the assessments as "challenges" to the students or "opportunities to show how much they know or are learning," the students lament at how many tests they are given.
Overtesting in a pandemic is beyond counterproductive. We should not be creating more frustration and tension in our children with assessments that their teacher does not find useful or productive. Our students should be focused only on engaging in their classes and learning the best they can under crisis distance learning.
Parents and educators are pushing back on the overassessment of our students and calling on the school district to stop the unnecessary and counterproductive Edulastic and Renaissance tests.
Overtesting in a pandemic is beyond counterproductive. We should not be creating more frustration and tension in our children with assessments that their teacher does not find useful or productive.
Alison Towery, the head of instruction for LAUSD, can make the call to stop forcing educators to use Edulastic and Renaissance during this pandemic. She needs to hear from educators and parents. We’ll put links in the chat.
Call and email Alison Towery today. Tell LAUSD that we do not want more testing of our students during this pandemic.
Alison Towery, the head of instruction for LAUSD:
Operation Warm Coat
Here’s a shout-out to a neat effort at 93rd Street Elementary, one of our amazing Community Schools. Thanks to the generosity of donors, every student at the school received a brand-new jacket this month. The school calls it Operation Warm Coat! As 93rdStreet Community Schools Coordinator Ingrid Villeda says, this is what Community Schools do.
Everyone may remember that in our 2019 strike, we won investment in 30 Community Schools in LAUSD by 2022. That work is under way, with more schools coming onboard. The Community School model positions public schools as hubs for neighborhoods, combining academics with family outreach and an infusion of social services through partnerships with local organizations. Great work, 93rd Street, and all of our other Community Schools to show what this model can do for our students and families.
READ:"How Community Schools Were Better Prepared for COVID-19 Crisis" by Cindy Long for neaToday.
As we struggle with the pandemic and reopening questions, it is heartbreaking and sobering to remember the friends and coworkers we have recently lost.
Tragically, two ESL educators from West Valley Occupational Center have recently passed.
Maria Ochoa fell victim to complications of COVID-19. Maria was a hard worker, dedicated to her classes, who always had a warm smile and never a harsh word for anyone. Seeing her on campus was always a fit to the spirits.
Sonia Khrapkova, an immigrant from Russia, was a brilliant and energetic proponent of culture and lover of art. Her colleagues say that her ESL classes were always packed with students, and many people would feel inspired and moved after having a long conversation with Sonia. Sonia died of leukemia.
Retired teacher Sol Goldsmith passed away on December 24, 2020, at the age of 93 of natural causes. Sol taught math, history, and geography for 30-plus years at Henry Clay, Gompers, and Paul Revere Middle Schools. He was active in UTLA throughout his career, serving as UTLA Chapter Chair while at Paul Revere. After he retired in 1987, he would often run into former students on the Santa Monica Promenade, who would yell out “Hey, Mr. G!” and he would smile and wave. With the exception of his daughters, Sol never fully comprehended how much he meant to all that knew him. As his nephew said: “I learned a lot about being a man from Sol. An expressive man, a stylish man, a loving person … who reached out to others and considered what a better world would look like.”
I’ll close with this — let’s not be too hard on ourselves if we are simply mentally and physically exhausted. The days run into each other, and we must be intentional about finding rest and peace.
We stand with you. Stay UTLA Strong! Together, we rise.