March 1, 2021President's Perspective
Good afternoon, friends — good afternoon, UTLA family, parents, and community members.
Today we have updates on limited services restarting on campuses on March 4, clarity on that April 9 date being mentioned in the media, an amazing parent caravan last weekend in support of safe schools, and our critical member vote next week on an unsafe return to school sites.
Once again we come together in our virtual space. I love how y’all ask and answer each other’s questions in the chat and give each other support as our updates roll out. Each week we have UTLA officers in the chat too and they are here to answer questions and engage on issues.
Limited voluntary services restart on March 4
First an update on the restart of limited voluntary services for students. Beginning March 4, the district is choosing to lift the Safer at Home provisions that have been in effect since the first week of December.
On March 4, the voluntary services that were happening before the winter surge can restart. These services mostly impact our Special Education and English Learners. Our previous Sideletter agreements on Voluntary Services will be in effect once again.
With access to vaccines now being offered to educators and the number of COVID cases dipping slightly — along with the safety language bargained in the sideletters — some members might be more comfortable volunteering to deliver services and/or assessments in person — but this is entirely voluntary.
We encourage those who wish to deliver such services to read the sideletter ageeements so you understand your rights and what to expect around conditions for service, process and procedures, and materials that should be available. We’ll put the links in the chat.
UTLA members also may return to school sites to teach from classrooms or work from offices, under the terms that were in place prior to the winter shutdown. This also is completely voluntary.
Let’s be clear: This is NOT a hybrid or full return to school sites, and no UTLA member is required to return.
Other LAUSD unions have also reached agreements in regard to their employees. Starting March 4, SEIU Paraprofessionals may choose to go in and Zoom from their school site.
LAUSD officials said this week that schools might be able to reopen on April 9 if safety conditions are met, including vaccines for staff.
This announcement has created some confusion and has been misinterpreted by some in the media.
There are no current plans to arbitrarily reopen schools on April 9. The April 9 date has not been presented in bargaining between UTLA and LAUSD, and we will reject any fixed date that ignores the elements of a safe return.
We are bargaining over “how” to physically reopen in a hybrid model, and we have told the district that the agreement must include language over “when” to physically reopen in a hybrid model.
That “when” to reopen must follow the three main elements of a safe return:
One, LA County must be out of the purple tier.
Two, staff required to return to in-person work are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination.
And three, safety conditions are in place in our schools, such as PPE, social distancing, ventilation, and a cleaning regimen.
Yesterday we presented a detailed proposal to LAUSD for the necessary health and safety conditions to physically return to schools for hybrid instruction. Our proposal reflects our three key safety demands and includes protocols and parameters for vaccination of school staff, COVID testing, health screening, physical distancing, PPE, daily cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, and other issues. The proposal is on our website and will be emailed to members tonight. We’ll put a link in the chat.
A lot of this information was shared earlier this week via email to UTLA members. If you are not getting our weekly emails but you’re pretty sure UTLA has your non-LAUSD email, please check your spam/junk folder and add UTLA to your contact list. If we don’t have your non-LAUSD email address, I’ll put a link in the chat on how to submit it.
Educators eligible for vaccines March 1
Starting March 1 educators are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, along with other essential workers.
LAUSD is operating two COVID-19 vaccination centers right now, at Roybal and SoFi Stadium. Two more sites are expected to open next week and three more the week of March 9.
LAUSD is prioritizing some categories of employees for vaccination. Info on those priorities and details on how to sign up should be coming soon from the district.
Unsafe to Return
Vaccinations for educators move us one step closer to our goal of being able to reunite in-person with students and return to school sites safely.
We are moving in the right direction, folx, but we are not there yet.
On Sunday on Meet the Press, Dr. Fauci said that the risk of a teacher getting infected in school is very likely similar to what you would see in the community. And we know our infection rates in many of our neighborhoods are still very high. The unsafe conditions we talked about last week still exist.
- One, LA County remains in the purple tier, and the communities we serve are at greater risk than others.
- Two, the overall LA County case rate does not reflect the infection levels in the LAUSD community. The pandemic’s toll in some parts of L.A. Unified has been among the worst in the nation.
- Three, safety standards are being eroded. 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 of the danger to their or their families’ health.
- And four, troubling new COVID-19 developments are not being taken seriously. There are 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.
Member Vote On An Unsafe Return To School Sites
In this context, UTLA members will be voting next week on the unsafe return to school sites.
Prompted by the increased pressure from politicians and big business for a physical return to school sites under unsafe conditions, the UTLA Officers, Board of Directors, and 93% of Chapter Chairs have voted to organize against a premature return to schools that will endanger the lives of students, educators, and the community until three conditions are met:
One, LA County is below the purple tier in terms of COVID-19 infections.
Two, vaccines are made available to educators.
And three, safety protocols are in place including PPE, social distancing, ventilation, and a cleaning regimen.
UTLA members will be voting on this issue next week. Voting runs from Monday, March 1 at 8 am to Friday, March 5 at 5 pm. A YES vote means you agree with the UTLA leadership and will join your union brothers, sisters, and siblings in organizing to resist a forced return to school sites until the three conditions for safety I mentioned have been met.
The vote is being handled by an outside company, Integrity Voting. UTLA members who have a non-LAUSD email on file at UTLA will receive an email from Integrity with a PIN and instructions for voting.
The emails will start arriving today Friday, February 26, and will continue through Monday morning. Some of you may have already received your email from Integrity Voting. Irrespective of when your email arrives, the link to vote will not be active until Monday, March 1 at 8 am.
If you do not receive an email to vote, there’s an easy direct link to the voting company. We emailed that link to members yesterday and it will be posted at utla.net
I urge you to vote. Reach to your colleagues and encourage them to vote. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard, and a huge turnout shows our unity and determination.
Not My Child: Car caravan demands safety for all communities
Now on to an uplifting protest that happened last Saturday, when more than 100 cars caravaned through the streets of downtown LA to demand a safe return to in-person schooling for ALL in Los Angeles, not just a privileged few.
Parents, students, and educators were there to send a message: Protecting the health of our families and communities means having clear health and safety protocols in schools, greater investments to improve distance learning, and an end to educational racism when we physically return to schools.
The car caravan uplifted voices not being heard in the debate.
It uplifted the voices of parents like Alicia Baltazar, who said her community of low-income mostly Spanish-speaking multi-generational households has been hit hard by the virus, and reopening unsafely puts them at greater risk.
It uplifted the voices of parents like Jazmin Garcia, who said that elected officials are pushing for a rushed return without considering the disproportionate impacts their actions will have on communities of color. Jazmin said that the focus should be on helping families that lost their jobs as a result of COVID19, lost a family member, are dealing with the longer lasting health impacts, or struggling to pay rent. Instead, a rushed return to school will endanger her already vulnerable community even more.
The car caravan was organized by UTLA and the community group Reclaims Our Schools LA, which is doing amazing work on social and racial justice issues. They were key to the recent historic win to de-police our schools and support Black student achievement. So much love for the parents and community organizers of Reclaim Our Schools LA.
We’ll put a link to one of the media stories on the caravan in the chat, and a shout-out to Westminster Elementary teacher Beth Clark and Century Park Elementary teacher Wade Kyle who were interviewed at the caravan by KABC Channel 7. UTLA educators and our students’ parents are the most potent messengers we have. Thank you for speaking up.
Along those lines, UTLA members have been creating and posting “I Am UTLA” videos to share their stories — the impact COVID is having on their students’ families and the fears of how an unsafe physical return will affect everyone. Our students’ realities deepen our commitment to physically return to schools only when it is safe for all of us.
These videos are incredibly moving and they underscore our righteous fight. My former colleague, Emerson Middle School teacher Noriko Nakada talks about seeing the tragic impact of the virus on her students and their families. Harry Bridges teacher Michael Gearin talks about a student who has been coming to class wearing a mask every day because she might have to jump up at any moment to help her grandmother with COVID as she struggles to breathe.
Webster Middle School teacher Michele Levin talks about how she and her students are making the best of a tough situation, including watching the Mars rover in class this week. Her students have shared how COVID has hurt their families and Michele fears that returning too soon will inflict more harm.
Let’s watch one of these powerful educator videos now, from theater teacher Estella Church.
So moving. Thank you, Estella, and all the others.
These videos are getting thousands of likes and views across social media platforms, and they are helping tell our story. I’d love to see everyone out there making a video and amplifying your reality. If you post a video, be sure to hashtag #IAmUTLA.
We Demand a Safe Return
To support our fight for a safe return, this week we launched a new paid media campaign, with ads on the LA Times, La Opinión, and other news sites. Our ads read “We Demand a Safe Return” and they link to our revamped public-facing website, We Are Public Schools, in English and Spanish. Billboards are going up in strategic locations, including near the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Safe Return Agreement in San Diego
San Diego Agreement: Lower case rates, staff vaccines, and safety mitigations
We are part of a nationwide family of educators who are taking a stand for a safe return. Let’s give a shout-out to our brothers, sisters, and siblings down in San Diego. On Monday, the San Diego Education Association reached a tentative agreement with the San Diego Unified School District on a safe return to in-person instruction for this school year.
Their agreement includes the key elements of our demands. Those elements are:
One, San Diego County must be in the red tier (as currently defined by California Department of Public Health) or better.
Two, all educators must have access to vaccination (both doses) before being required to report onsite (and achieve maximum immunity before resuming in-person instruction).
And three, strict safety mitigations must be in place.
San Diego teachers are facing the same political pressure to unsafely reopen, and we congratulate them for reaching a positive agreement. It’s not a coincidence that the San Diego agreement has similar elements to our demands. They are similar because they are guided by science, not politics. Way to stay strong, San Diego educators, and way to protect your staff and your students and their families. Big shouts out to my sister, SDEA President Kisha Borden, VP Kyle and their ED Abdul.
Shout-outs & Resources
Now onto shout-outs and resources …
Two local educators are making their communities proud.
John F Kennedy High School teacher Dr. Scott Petri has been named outstanding High School Teacher of the Year and South Gate Middle School teacher Silvio Jose Vidal has been named Middle School Teacher of the Year by the California Council for the Social Studies.
Scott has taught social studies in LAUSD since 2003. He was named Outstanding Debate Coach after bringing his team to the National Championships twice, and Scott has been awarded a Teacher-Impact Grant from ASCD and a Keeping History Alive Grant. With his work with the National Council for Social Studies and other groups, he has taught professional development to over 10,000 educators.
Silvio came to his teaching career after being a CPA in the corporate world, which left him wanting a more fulfilling career that would give back to the community. With the support of his wife, he committed to becoming a teacher in his favorite subject and devoted three years to Social Science courses, exams, and a teacher preparation program. He says becoming a teacher is the best decision he ever made. Silvio is also on the UTLA South Area steering committee and he brings the same passion to union advocacy.
Congratulations, Scott and Silvio, two of our shining stars.
UTLA Ruben Salazar Scholarship
Our East and North Area members have been honoring the legacy of Ruben Salazar for 49 years with the Ruben Salazar Scholarship.
Ruben Salazar was a trailblazing journalist for the Los Angeles Times who was not afraid to tackle racism, and he uplifted the Mexican American and Chicano identity in his writing. Salazar was killed in 1970 while covering the National Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam and the blowouts in East Los Angeles.
The UTLA scholarship is open to all graduating seniors enrolled in any LAUSD high school, Continuation School, or High School Completion Program. Please encourage your seniors to apply. The deadline for applications is April 16. You can find the details and application form on our website or the link in the chat.
Virtual Gallery: The Black Family
Thanks to UTLA member Ebony Batiste for sharing a great way to mark the end of Black History Month. LAUSD Local Districts East and West are holding a virtual gallery of artworks and performances called The Black Family: Representation, Identity & Diversity. More than 100 LAUSD schools are participating, and the virtual gallery is open from February 25 through March 5. Links will be in the chat.
Spaces like this are so important to our students — spaces where Black creativity, Black art, Black lives are celebrated. At this week’s CTA Equity and Human Rights Conference, the amazing Erika Jones, UTLA member, CTA board member, and my long-time sister in the struggle, said something so powerful. Erika said: “The first person who put up obstacles for me, was myself. I grew up being bullied, being the only Black child in spaces, feeling like my voice had to be white in order to be "right." Once I untangled my own oppression, it helped me to become a disruptor.”
Yes, Erika. Thank you. Here’s to all the disrupters who are not accepting the world we are given.
Now we mark another tragic passing. Retired teacher Laurie Walter has passed away due to complications of COVID 19.
Laurie Walters built her life around doing what she loved best: teaching children. "Dr. Laurie" was a beloved and magnificent teacher, always going beyond the call of duty. At Weems Elementary, she developed curriculum and served as a mentor teacher and an instructor in the District Intern Program. When one of her former young students who came from a challenging background needed a safe place to stay, Laurie gave her a home.
After 27 years of teaching, Laurie had the opportunity to help start one of the first pilot schools, the NOW Academy, which was one of the first schools in the country designed by those who taught in the classroom.
Laurie also served on UTLA’s House of Representatives for two terms. She was committed to uplifting the voices of teachers and answering the call of the community she served.
Aside from her passion for teaching, Laurie had a passion for life. Her diverse interests included watching all sports, world travel, a love of carousels and music (especially Barbra Streisand), plays, roller coasters, Disneyland, New York City, cats, and her valued friends.
Laurie was a fighter. When faced with a challenging medical diagnosis, she took it step-by-step. She became a member of the support group for Ocular Melanoma. While surviving that disease, sadly, Laurie succumbed to COVID-19.
Laurie was loved and she will be missed by all who had the privilege to know her. She was a devoted daughter, loving niece, and cherished by her many friends, students and colleagues.
With her passing, it was Laurie’s wish that all donations go to the organization Ocular Melanoma Awareness. We’ll put a link in the comments.
Rest in peace, Dr. Laurie.
Next month it will be one year since we shut down physical schools and entered our new reality.
The unprecedented medical, social, and economic upheaval has resulted in a host of mental health consequences: feelings of uncertainty, sleep disturbances, anxiety, distress, and depression. Folx out there know what I’m talking about — and we know our students are suffering. The mental health fallout of the pandemic is real.
The psychological impact of the pandemic will have long-term ramifications and that will require long-term supports. We count amazing mental health professionals among our members. We need more folx on campuses doing this critical work. Funding for comprehensive mental health support and services, such as counselors and psychiatric social workers, must be a priority when we return to schools.
The truth is, mental health has never been a priority in our schools or in America in general.
As powerful as public education can be when funded properly, we are not the answer to every need in society.
Watch out for people who would shame you and blame you for larger ills outside of our control. Don’t accept that burden. You are doing enough. You are enough. I am proud to know you.
Our weekend starts now. Set your intention to put the work on pause sometime this weekend. Listen to music, bake cookies, go for a walk, or call and catch up with a friend. On my list is going on several bike rides with Giovanni, reading some chapters in those three books I shared before, watching Spirited Away and enjoying my virtual date night on Saturday night.
We are in this together. We are united. Take some time for you, Stay strong, UTLA, because together we rise.