UTLA UPDATE - 5.7.2021 with UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz

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Good evening everyone! Good evening to all the folx who make up our vibrant school learning communities. We see you, educators, students, parents, grandparents, guardians, and community members!

Thank you to all the folx who reached out and asked for a later start time for these sessions so that you could wrap up your school day, commute home, and then join us. It’s great to hear that you value being part of our virtual community here and we are glad that we could accommodate your request! 

I’m especially excited about today’s updates because we have a righteous win on childcare to share, along with info on the school year, a transformational amount of funding coming to LA schools, a shoutout to educators doing fantastic work and to our school nurses in honor of National Nurses Week.

Today’s updates: a righteous win on childcare to share, info on the school year, a transformational amount of funding coming to LA schools, a shoutout to educators doing fantastic work and to our school nurses in honor of National Nurses Week.

So let’s dive in.


District agrees to childcare flexibility

I will kick off today with an energizing win on childcare for our families. 

In response to fierce organizing by UTLA members, the district agreed this week to a new districtwide policy on flexibility for childcare issues related to the return to in-person instruction. And the district plans on putting it in writing! 

This is a great win for families who have been struggling to figure out childcare in this new normal. 

If you are a member with a childcare issue, reach out to your administrator and explore possible solutions, such as being able to Zoom from home or leaving at a different time to pick up your child. Even if you previously asked for accommodation but your administrator said no, try asking again now that LAUSD has clearly communicated the need for creativity and flexibility districtwide.

We will have more details in the Friday email to members. So please pay attention to your email inboxes. 

So that’s the win — and now we illuminate the stories and the struggle behind it. 

Soon after the return to in-person instruction was approved, UTLA members started organizing around childcare and did not let up — driving petitions, amplifying the issue on social media, giving interviews to the press, and turning advocacy into action. UTLA was also relentless in our conversations with Beutner, the district’s bargaining team, and various School Board members to press them on childcare issues. 

This week we held a UTLA childcare forum with 75 mamas, and the stories shared were heart-wrenching — like the educator who was denied an accommodation for her medically fragile child, or the teacher threatened with a negative evaluation if she didn’t return to in-person instruction, or the first-year educator who was waitlisted for daycare at every place she tried.

These are stories of desperation and anxiety — and they are paralleled in working families across the country, from warehouse workers to grocery store employees, bus drivers and emergency first responders. The needs are real. Childcare for working families should be a  right, not a privilege.

Women of color compose the majority of the LAUSD workforce. Access to childcare is a social justice issue, and we must all keep advocating for a sustainable solution. 

Allow me to be clear, this is not a one-and-done conversation. We must keep up our advocacy and uplift the issue every chance we get on the local, state and national level. 

At UTLA, we will continue to push the envelope of what is possible because we can do it and we must do it. When we tell our stories, we rise. When we organize, we win.


Fight Forward for Transformational Change

Now onto another positive development. 

As most of us know by now, this week LAUSD backed off the plan to extend the school year by 10 days. 2021-22 will be a traditional school year, beginning with a pupil-free day on August 13.

This was the right thing to do. There was widespread opposition to the extended calendar year across the LAUSD community. 75% of UTLA members responding to our survey indicated that they did not want to extend the school year. 62% of school administrators did not want the mandatory longer year, and there was a tepid response from LAUSD parents to the extension. 

That is the reality UTLA brought into bargaining sessions with the school district. 

We can’t follow the most stressful and  traumatic year our learning communities have ever had with the longest school year we’ve ever had. Families need time to be together, recuperate, and prepare for our new normal in the fall.

Our school district will be getting an infusion of more than one and a half billion dollars for pandemic recovery. Let me repeat that figure: more than one and half billion dollars. Now the work begins to allocate funding in impactful ways to help our students recover from disruptions to learning and pandemic-related trauma. Our students’ need are great but for the first time in decades, there is funding for transformational improvements for our students and their families.

Transformation means more elementary and secondary teachers on campus with lower class sizes so students can get individualized attention as they recover from disruptions caused by this heinous global pandemic. 

Transformation means a huge expansion of psychologists, counselors, PSAs, and PSWs to give students expanded mental health services to deal with the trauma that COVID-19 has brought into all of our lives, especially those of our students. 

Transformation means expanding direct support for special education students who have suffered from lack of access to the services they need. 

Transformation means expanding the amazing Community Schools model. 

Community schools are  both  places and sets of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, youth development, family support, health and social services and community development leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. And we know that having more of these school models in our neighborhoods will improve the outcomes for black, brown and vulnerable students. 

For the first time in decades, we have the funding to dream big and actually fight forward for our babies, and this work will define us. We’ll be having deep and ongoing conversations with chapter leaders and UTLA members as we continue to organize behind the healthy, healing, and equitable return that our students and  education community  deserves — both now and in the years to come.


LA County Enters Yellow Tier

Today,  we mark the end of the second week that all schools in LA Unified have been open for in-person instruction. Health and safety continue to be priority number one, and the number of serious issues related to critical protocols remain very small. We have to stay vigilant to keep our students, their families, and our communities safe. We fought hard for those safety protections and now we will work collectively to make sure they are followed each and every day. 

The transition to in-person work for many has come with a crushing workload, exhaustion, and frustration. We must continue to work together to bring the joy of teaching and learning into our new normal. 

I found joy this week in a short video that Baldwin Hills Elementary teacher Arian White posted of himself in a huge Darth Vader mask Zooming with his students. Arian calls his alter ego Chad Vader, and every once in a while Chad VADER takes over the class, and his young students love it. Arian posted the video with this message: "Do what you love and you'll never work a day."

I also found joy in the story of Dr. Claudia Cataldo, who has been running a one-woman bookmobile project for students and families in  South LA throughout the pandemic. 

Dr. Cataldo, who teaches 12th-grade English at Santee Learning Complex, began the project shortly after the 2020 school year was paused and built it through her personal Instagram. Since then, she has built partnerships with community organizations and a presence at farmers markets, including a free book table at the Saturday Crenshaw Farmers Market.

As an English teacher, Dr. Cataldo knows that kids are more likely to read books that they chose themselves, so her philosophy is that she doesn't care what books kids choose, so long as they make the decision. A lot of students are hesitant to take more than one book, but Dr. Cataldo urges them on because she wants her students to know that they deserve the best. Few things warm her heart more than the radiance she feels when handing books over to our students and watching their uncontrollable joy rise! 



COVID Testing Issues

LA County received good news this week on the COVID front. We are now officially in the Yellow Tier, and California has the lowest COVID rates in the country. That’s a remarkable improvement,  but the hope we are feeling shouldn’t blind us from the suffering in other countries, including India and South America, where illness and death is ravaging through communities. As a society we must push for more fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, resources and support across the globe.

Now onto issues with COVID testing at school sites: Kinks are still being worked out for the district’s mobile testing units and LAUSD is trying to improve on capacity issues. It’s been frustrating to expect the testing unit to be at your school and it doesn’t show, or to not know until the last minute that the unit is coming. Schools that are approaching 14 days since the last mobile testing unit visit will continue to be prioritized. The district hired a second vendor, particularly to focus on schools in LD South and LD West where there have been the most delays with the mobile testing units. The district recognizes that it is an issue when schools don’t get enough notice of the testing schedule, and the goal is to extend notice to 5 days.


National Nurses Week May 6-12

Now a huge shout-out to our school nurses as part of National Nurses Week.

These UTLA members have been nothing less than incredible during this unprecedented worldwide health crisis. 

In the very early days of the pandemic, school nurses answered the call and volunteered at Family Resource Centers. Every day of the crisis since then, school nurses have been critical to keeping our students, staff, and communities safe and healthy.

So, school nurses — behind your masks and face shields — we see you, we honor you, and we recognize your dedication to your healing profession.

Beyond the nurses that serve in our school communities, I would also like to take a moment of personal privilege to honor all the nurses that have been on the frontline of the pandemic. You brave women and men have put your lives and those of your family on the line to keep us all safe, thriving and alive. 

And for that, we as a globe are grateful! 


Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Today we also mark Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month during an especially troubling time, with the rise of violence against the AAPI community.

There are more than 35,000 Asian and Pacific-Islander students in LAUSD, and as educators we recognize that it is our duty to educate, learn from, and also to protect and stand with them in the face of racist, xenophobic, and misogynist hatred.

API peoples were important in all anti-war movements, the farmworker movement here in California, and key in the struggles for women’s rights, Ethnic Studies, LGBTQ rights, immigrant justice, labor struggles in hospitals, grocery stores, hotels, and schools. 

As educators, it is our responsibility to point to the long arc of racism, misogyny, and violence against API communities and to commit to teaching about the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our history and society. 


UTLA Leadership Conference August

For all the Chapter Leaders out there, a quick mention to put the UTLA Leadership Conference on your radar. The UTLA Leadership Conference will be from Wednesday, August 4, to Friday, August 6 and once again we will be virtual. Over those three days we will strategize and organize as we fight forward for the healthy, healing, and equitable return that our students and education community deserve. Registration and more info on the UTLA Leadership Conference will be sent to chapter leaders soon, but for now, save those dates, please!


Equity or Else: Quality of Life Virtual Rally on May 17

Now I want to uplift a virtual rally happening on Monday, May 17.

Imagine this … what if organizations that battle for equity in different areas like healthcare, education, housing, policing, and more … came together to fight forward for a Quality of Life Agenda! 

Well... that’s what’s happening with a new nationwide campaign that kicks off with the “Equity or Else: Quality of Life Virtual Rally” on May 17 at 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and 12 pm noon on the East. That’s during the workday for most of us, but for folx who can make it, check out our Facebook page and social media for the link to sign up for the virtual rally.

The pandemic has highlighted the entrenched racial inequities that have pervaded nearly every aspect of life in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Journey for Justice and community-based organizations, labor unions, parents, and students across the country are joining together to demand federal investment in a “quality of life” platform to invest in basic quality-of-life institutions in our communities, such as education, safety, housing, health care, climate, food apartheid, and economic development. 

Join on May 17 if you can and look for more info coming on how we can plug into this critical Quality of Life campaign! 



And that's all for this evening, Los Angeles. I hope that you have a happy, healthy and restful weekend.  Unplug, relax and recharge. You have earned it.

Until next time, stay strong --UTLA strong, because together, we rise.