United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which nominally represents more than 30,000 teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district, approved a parallel Letter of Agreement-in-Principle (TA) with the district for the summer session and l school year to come. Under the terms of the agreement, the district’s 1,000 schools, serving more than 600,000 students, opened on June 23 for daily in-person instruction with a distance of just three feet between offices.
Without any discussion, the school board approved the deal just one day before the schools reopened. A dangerous precedent has been set by UTLA which will be followed by districts across the West Coast.
The reckless schools reopening deal finalized as Los Angeles County, like many other parts of the United States, experiences a new wave of COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant begins to take hold . In fact, the county reported 506 new infections last Thursday, its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since mid-April. Additionally, children under 12 – the majority of students returning to class – are not yet eligible for the vaccine and remain unprotected against the virus.
Meanwhile, the number of Delta variant cases sequenced in county labs has doubled, reaching a total of 245 last week, or about 44% of all sequenced cases, according to the LA County Director of Public Health. , Barbara Ferrer. âGiven that 4 million people in LA County are yet to be vaccinated, the risk of increased spread is very real,â Ferrer said.
While the union boasts that 94% of teachers have approved TA, the reality is that only 12,193 of the more than 30,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and librarians at district and charter schools have actually voted; 18,000 abstained in the vote.
“With the approval of this agreement, schools in Los Angeles will have critical COVID safety protocols in place as we welcome students into the joys of full-time in-person learning,” said the president of the UTLA, Cecily Myart-Cruz.
Superintendent Austin Beutner, who retired immediately after the deal was struck, insisted the district is implementing “the highest set of safety standards of any school district in the country” to protect against COVID-19 as campuses welcome students again this spring, highlighting upgrading air filtration systems, remediation efforts and provision of protective equipment.
Among the provisions of the agreement with UTLA are the requirement of COVID-19 testing at least every two weeks, the maintenance of a public “dashboard” to report all positive cases, mandatory symptom screening of all students, staff and visitors entering a school site, as well as physical distancing requirements and the mandatory wearing of masks. The agreement also provides for âregularâ cleaning and replacement of the classroom air filters as needed.
For parents who choose to keep their children safe to learn at home, the agreement provides that elementary students receive three hours of live online instruction per day in addition to assigned freelance work. High school students will have three 75-minute periods per day with at least 40 minutes of live instruction per period, as well as assigned independent work.
The agreement also provides that all school sites have a working group on COVID-19 compliance. The task forces, similar to those set up after the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles in 2019, are essentially facades with no real capacity for application.
Teachers who returned to classrooms in April noted that it was impossible to meet the six-foot or even three-foot distance guidelines, with the promised supplies of PPE, soap and hand sanitizer. ranging from inadequate to non-existent.
Not only is the plan to reopen UTLA / LAUSD not enjoying the trust of teachers, but parents are also very reluctant to send their children back to dangerous classes with students under the age of 12 who are totally unvaccinated. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, only 30% of primary students and 7% of secondary LAUSD students had returned to class.
Students who returned were often given ‘zoom in room’ style instructions, pointing out that the plan to reopen the school has nothing to do with improving academic performance and everything to do with return of parents to unsafe workplaces to generate corporate profits.
By presenting the latest TA to teachers, UTLA has once again regurgitated many of the same lies since its initial campaign to open schools in April, in line with the national policy of the Biden administration. As with the first TA agreed in March, UTLA asserted that it provided for all conditions necessary for a safe return to school stating that it would provide “applicable safety conditions and protocols in each school. , including PPE, physical distancing, improved ventilation and daily cleaning.
In response, Ric, a fifth-grade teacher at LAUSD who recently retired, said, âIn April, after I got my first TA, my classroom air conditioning and fan were not working. I informed the principal and told him that if they weren’t working I would refuse to teach inside a classroom and would opt to teach outside on the grass. I had to complain loudly for three days before it was fixed. Our site rep did not like that I told him my air conditioning and ventilation units were not working. I told him he should go to all the classrooms and write down what needed to be fixed. He resigned shortly after. It sounds pretty bad. Many teachers’ non-functioning air conditioners were fixed due to my loud complaints.
Responding to the three-foot social distancing measure, Ric said, “A three-foot separation instead of six feet allows them to fill the classroom as usual.”
Ric commented: âOn this last TA, this vote was organized by UTLA. The teachers had no choice. Again, when they say âregularâ cleaning, what does that mean? The same rules were used after the first TA, and “regular” meant maybe once a week, actually. It is not clean.
Not only is this not clean, but it contrasts sharply with Section V, Part C of the new TA, which states: âDaily cleaning and disinfection – The district shall ensure that all classrooms, toilets and workspaces are cleaned regularly and all touch surfaces are disinfected daily. Unit members are not required to provide these services.
The WSWS interviewed another teacher, Sarah, who teaches high school English at LAUSD. She said, âThese are my problems with the results of the UTLA vote. First of all, we don’t know that schools are safe. The number of students who returned in person at the end of the year was nothing. I had a student in my room, and the teachers who had students had between one and three at most. It is not at all comparable to 35 in a room.
Sarah continued, âFor parents who wish to opt out of in-person learning, their child will need to register for City of Angels for School Online in the fall. I worked at City of Angles for a year, and I can tell you that the quality of teaching is not at all the same. It was also not explained what the rules are for choosing the online option.
Regarding social distancing, Sarah said: âThree feet of social distancing is not possible in many classrooms that I have worked in over the years and certainly not possible in the school I am in. now. The school I work in has traveling teachers because there aren’t even any classrooms.
Regarding ventilation, she said, âI have worked in several schools, including the one I am currently in, that do not have windows. Many CDC articles on classrooms specifically mention the importance of keeping windows and doors open.
âLAUSD says the ventilation systems have been improved, but I’m not sure what that means. In my school, when I complained about the small size of my room, they would bring in a small ventilation unit, a box on wheels. How do people know if this box is sufficient to purify the air in a room? “
Voting on TA began on June 15, four days after the last day of school in a year of unprecedented change and trauma from the pandemic. Normally, teachers struggle to fill out report cards, clean their classrooms for the summer, attend end-of-year events like graduation ceremonies and other assemblies.
June 15 was also the day that Los Angeles County fully reopened with the rest of California. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), the county saw 210 new cases of COVID-19, and the test positivity rate was around 0.5%. Over the next two weeks, those numbers doubled.
At the same time, the LACDPH has warned that due to the increasing circulation of variants of concern, such as the Delta variant, there is an increased risk of infection for those who are not vaccinated. As of June 30, less than 50 percent of the county’s current metropolitan population of 12,459,000 had been vaccinated.
Teachers, parents, students and support staff are rightly angry at UTLA’s betrayals and fear the dangers of the pandemic with returning to full-time school. We urge all who oppose the reckless reopening of schools who wish to fight back to join and help build the Los Angeles Educator Safety Committee today.