According to the Los Angeles County Health Department, local elementary schools could be eligible to reopen in-person instruction within a matter of weeks. But the LAUSD Teachers Union says otherwise, noting that the current purple tier (the most restrictive tier in Governor Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy) makes in-person education not safe enough. LA public school students have not been in the classroom for nearly an entire year now — a staggering statistic to say the least. March 13, 2020, was the last day in-person education occurred in the City of Angels. So, as Los Angeles nears the threshold to reopen schools, let’s explore why the LAUSD Teachers Union says it’s too soon.
Failing Grades and Mental Health
The unfortunate reality of the pandemic is that the hurt from COVID-19 reverberates; its effects are felt far and wide. Over the past 11 months, parents and students across the country have struggled to cope with the new normal. Most importantly, the rise in failing grades is coupled with a rise in health-related emergency room visits for children aged 5-17. Visits increased nearly 28% between March and October of 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019. (CDC) As a result, seven families have sued the state of California, citing remote learning as the culprit for leaving Black and Latinx students behind.
A Complex Web
Getting students and teachers back to the classroom for in-person education is a complex issue. In that vein, it is similar to many new problems that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. Simply put, there are valid arguments on both sides. Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of the United Teachers L.A. (the teachers union for L.A. Unified), touched on their point of view, “We want to back in schools with our babies. At this present time, it’s just not safe. Infection rates are high.”
Governor Gavin Newsom’s Safe Schools for All Plan is the barometer for opening schools in California. Under the plan, districts are encouraged to bring younger students back to campus if coronavirus rates drop to 25 cases or lower per 100,000 county residents. As of January 26, 2021, L.A. County is recording a daily rate of 48.2 new positive cases per 100,000 residents.
Vaccines on the Way
There is still great hope for LA County and California, despite the disparaging news. In December of last year, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In addition, Johnson & Johnson will be submitting its single-dose vaccine for approval any day now, adding one more weapon in the arsenal to combat covid. Their vaccine is especially valuable, as it does not require the extremely cold storage temperature that Pfizer needs (-94° F).
Plus, with the holiday season behind us, many in LA are hopeful that the light at the end of the proverbial tunning is near. “People are playing by the rules and the holidays are over,” explained Barbara Ferrer, Department of Public Health Director. She continued, saying “It will not be long…if we stay the course we’re on.” Last week, she told the L.A. City Council that the county could reach the necessary threshold in two to three weeks.
A Lack of Safety Precautions
On the other hand, the rollout of vaccinations in LA County and California as a whole has been disappointingly slow. At the time of this blog, 5.7 million doses have been delivered to California, while 3.65 million have been administered. Meanwhile, LA County has vaccinated 917,491 residents, approximately 9% of the county’s 10 million residents.
Cecily Myart-Cruz pointed out that the LAUSD Teachers Union says it’s. Namely, the district lacks the proper infrastructure to protect teachers, students, and their families. Vaccines have not reached teachers yet, which concerns the California Teachers Association too. President E. Toby Boyd posited that reopening elementary schools for small-group instruction is hypothetically feasible. However, he was quick to point out that opening schools will only be possible once proper testing, contact tracing, cleaning, ventilation, and distancing protocols are enforced.
“There have to be multi-layered safety measures,” Boyd pointed out. “Most of the schools have not been able to do all the things that are required.”
For now, the students, teachers, and parents of LA County will have to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks. If LAUSD does elect to open campuses, the district may be eligible to receive millions of dollars from the state. Superintendent Austin Beutner would apply for that funding by submitting a draft reopening plan. However, it’s unclear if it will be approved without the union’s consent.