February 12, 2021President's Perspective
February 12, 2021 Facebook Live Transcript
Good afternoon, everyone — good afternoon, UTLA family, parents, and community members.
Hey, let’s see who is with us today — give a shout-out in the comments below — let us know who you are — whether you are a third-grade teacher, attendance counselor, arts teacher, middle school librarian, chemistry teacher, school nurse, parent, grandparent, caregiver, guardian — and in many cases we serve many of those roles at once. We are a community rich and strong. Thank you for joining us this afternoon.
Today we’ll be talking about that misguided lawsuit to sue LAUSD to force an unsafe return to physical campuses, the status of COVID rates in LA County and the elements needed for a safe return, and an update on bargaining.
Black and Brown families are dying at disproportionately higher rates and getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates. Our schools are at the heart of these hard-hit communities, and educators feel a deep responsibility to advocate for our students and their parents.
Okay, first up, late last week City Council Member Joe Buscaino announced his intention to sue LA Unified School District to force the unsafe reopening of school campuses. We are gratified that on Tuesday L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer rejected this misguided attempt.
Buscaino’s motion, seconded by City Council Member Gilbert Cedillo, is political theater that feeds off of people’s frustrations. It clearly panders to the business community’s desire to accelerate employees’ return to work even as COVID-19 outbreaks at workplaces have soared dramatically. This push for unsafe reopenings is harmful to all of Los Angeles, but particularly the Black and Brown communities that Buscaino and Cedillo are supposed to represent.
Educators and parents are exhausted — exhausted by the challenges of distance learning and by watching elected officials prioritize the opening of malls, outdoor dining, and card rooms over controlling the virus so as to make it safe to return to school campuses. We are exhausted by having to fight to save lives in the face of politicians’ callous disregard for the illness and death hitting low-income communities of color.
Black and Brown families are dying at disproportionately higher rates and getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates. Our schools are at the heart of these hard-hit communities, and educators feel a deep responsibility to advocate for our students and their parents. Buscaino needs to make clear how many lives he is willing to sacrifice to satisfy business interests and score political points with constituents who are far away from the front lines of the pandemic.
Threats of lawsuits do not change the underlying conditions in LA County, which is still suffering from COVID infection rates that make it unsafe to reopen schools. While the virus outlook in LA has improved since last month, when a surge was overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes, LA continues to record more new virus cases each day than any other county in America. We remain firmly in the Purple Tier, which indicates extremely high-risk level, and health officials are concerned that the more contagious variants spreading in our community could lead to another spike.
The path to a safe reopening is not a frivolous lawsuit. The path to a safe reopening must include:
- One, vaccines for all educators and school staff;
- Two, safety protocols and multi-tiered mitigation strategies (such as COVID testing, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation/
- quarantine procedures); and Three, LA County must be out of the purple tier.
Buscaino’s action lit a fire under UTLA members in his district. San Pedro HIgh school English teacher Maya Suzuki Daniels woke up angry the morning after she learned of the lawsuit threat. Maya, who is the school’s UTLA Chapter Chair, quickly drafted an open letter in opposition. She and her colleagues began circulating it within their local education networks.
Our union is our force for standing up against these inequities and fighting for our students’ futures.
Hundreds of signatures poured in and now nearly 800 people have signed on, including over 300 teachers, over 100 parents, over 50 students and alumni, and seven principals. They All condemn Buscaino’s political grandstanding and call on him to instead focus efforts to reinvest in our schools to make them genuinely safe. The letter has been sent but organizers are still urging folx in Buscaino’s district to call the council member’s office. We’ll put a link to their righteous letter and Buscaino’s office number in the chat.
Tyler Chavez-Feipel, UTLA Chapter co-chair at San Pedro High, calls out Buscaino for aligning himself with the likes of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and Senator Marco Rubio in Florida, who have also called for the unsafe reopening of physical schools.
Chavez-Feipel is taking a stand for his special education students, who research shows are at increased risk of infection and death from the coronavirus.
Way to organize, Harbor Area folx. Way to stand up for our students and our communities.
So, while public school educators have to fight a lawsuit to prevent being forced back in unsafe conditions, teachers at a pricey private school in the Valley have been allowed to jump the line and get vaccinated.
The private school, where tuition can cost $32,000 a year, secured the COVID-19 vaccine for its teachers and employees, despite LA County rules that say teachers under age 65 are not yet eligible.
It’s yet another reminder of how stacked the system is against low-income communities of color and the public schools that serve them.
Our union is our force for standing up against these inequities and fighting for our students’ futures.
It’s clear that political pressure is rising to force a return to in-person instruction without clear safety protocols. In light of these developments, we need to have a concrete plan if conditions are simply unsafe.
There is a critical citywide meeting for chapter leaders next Wednesday, February 17, from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm. Chapter leaders, look in your email for info or reach out to your Area representative. Every school must be represented at this meeting.
The chapter leader meeting will be followed by UTLA chapter meetings held at your school site the next week to engage with your colleagues about this fight for health and safety.
Now an update on bargaining with LAUSD.
The bargaining process continues to be shaped by the changing conditions around us, including community infection rates and the availability of vaccines. In light of these dynamics, UTLA and LAUSD have agreed to shift focus in bargaining from targeted in-person services to hybrid instructional models.
Bargaining on hybrid schedules does not mean that a return to in-person learning is close. As I said at the outset, LA County remains firmly in the Purple Tier, which indicates an extremely high-risk level of getting COVID-19 based on cases per capita and test positivity rates.
Embedded in our bargaining framework are the components of a safe return that I listed earlier:
One, vaccines for all educators and school staff;
Two, safety protocols and multi-tiered mitigation strategies (such as COVID testing, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation/quarantine procedures); and Three, LA County must be out of the purple tier.
We continue to bargain over the extension of the school calendar. LAUSD’s 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 Board of Education will be voting on the calendar option next month. Any agreement we reach with LAUSD would be put to a vote of the UTLA membership.
I always like to give our members and community shoutouts and resources to can use with students…..
With the support of UTLA and CTA educators, the California Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the first week of February as Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. The
resolution was introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer who said “this sets aside time to uplift the experiences of the Black community and affirm individuals’ self-worth and right to be treated with respect.” I have to call out UTLA member Ingrid Gunnell and CTA Legislative Advocate Seth Bramble — at the last minute it looked like the resolution was going to be side-lined, so these two went into action and helped push it front and center. Great work and another step forward for racial equity and social justice.
Central High School teacher Vitaly clued me onto 2 thoughtful films on race and communication available for streaming for free on YouTube. Talking Black in America is about the incredible impact of the descendants of American slaves on American life and language, the influences of different dialects, and the resilience of people living through oppression and segregation. Signing Black in America is about the unique ASL dialect that developed among the black deaf community. I’ll put the links to these two films in the chat in the below.
I want to talk about some tragic losses that have impacted our UTLA community.
After battling COVID-related pneumonia for three weeks, Joaquin Quintero passed away on January 29. Quintero was a teacher for LAUSD for 24 years, with the last 15 of them spent at Gardena High School teaching math.
People who knew him best are posting tributes to this warm and generous man, including this from a former student: "He was one the best teachers I’ve ever had and he impacted my life in such a good way. He motivated me to go to college and do something better for myself. He believed in me and that’s something I’ll always carry with me."
Quintero is survived by Laura, his wife of 30 years; his four children; and his beloved grandson. The family is raising money to help with funeral expenses and to help navigate new financial means for their family of six. We will post the Go Fund me link in the chat, along with a link to a Telemundo 52 story on this impactful educator.
People across the country are mourning the passing of former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis — one of our lifetime’s most influential labor leaders.
Karen rose to prominence in 2012, when she led the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in 25 years — a walkout that inspired a wave of educator activism and the beginning of the Red for Ed movement to demand more support for public education.
A proud daughter of Chicago Public School teachers, Karen was a NBC chemistry teacher in Chicago Public Schools for more than 20 years before becoming president of the union.
Karen took down the house when she spoke at the UTLA 2016 Leadership Conference, igniting the warrior in all of us. She was a no-nonsense truth teller who could inspire a crowd, she could cut through an argument with an elected leader with mere words, and was clearly grounded with members and students.
I was honored to speak at her virtual service this week. Karen dared us to dream big … dream big to heights unknown, and challenge the status quo every step of the way. The narrative of public education has forever been changed because of Karen’s work. We continue to fight in her spirit. UTLA Treasurer Alex Orozco has lost his father, Manuel Orozco, to COVID.
Alex shares that Manuel was a great father and loved helping all in need. Though he never had much, Manuel used his years of law school he received In Mexico to help the less fortunate with immigration issues in the Pacoima projects. He always loved soccer, but having contracted polio he was never able to play. That didn’t stop him from having one of the most successful soccer leagues in Pacoima for not just adults but for kids. He always puts kids first and made sure that any child who wanted to play soccer had an opportunity to do so. He dedicated his life to making soccer a reality for kids in Pacoima.
He leaves behind his wife, six kids, and 14 grandchildren. Anyone who grew up in the Pacoima projects in the ‘90s probably knew “El Meño”.
Rest in Power, Manuel, Karen and Joaquin. We will remember you.
I’m going to close with a meme that’s making the rounds and resonating.
The meme says: What if the question wasn’t, Should schools reopen?
What if instead the question was, Why have schools and educators become the answer for every issue in our society? And if we are that answer, why haven’t we been funded that way?
A big yes to that. And a big yes to Venice High teacher Lorena Santos, who took the meme to the next level. She wrote, Those of you demanding that schools open immediately better be the first ones to sign up for precinct walking and phone banking next time an initiative for school funding is on the ballot. Yes, Lorena, that is so true. Speaking truth right there!
I love how you are calling out some folx and also pointing toward our future.
We know the trauma of the pandemic must be met with empathy and care and a transformational amount of funding for public education.
As a union we are committed to not simply slipping back to the old normal when in-person learning resumes. The old normal wasn’t working. Our underfunded, under-resourced system was not enough for our babies before the pandemic, and their needs are even more profound now. That means not just defeating the austerity budgets of cuts and layoffs that we know are coming — it means embracing a vision that sparks love, joy, creativity and compassion. We can do this. We are educators! We will do this. For our babies.
As always, I hope you find peace over the long weekend. In my house, I have 3 books I haven’t finished, Unapologetic,
The Purpose of Power and Tears We Cannot Stop. and my son Giovanni asked if we could play catch with a real glove, and an old-school board game Connect 4. Enjoy the three-day break. Lean into it and rest! You deserve this and so much more. Until next time!
Stay UTLA strong, everyone. Because together, we rise.