Amid COVID-19 infections and deaths surging to record highs, President Trump’s threats to open schools prematurely, and a groundbreaking research paper that outlines necessary conditions for safely reopening schools, the UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) Board of Directors and Bargaining Team are calling on LAUSD to keep school campuses closed when the semester begins on Aug. 18.
Arlene Inouye, co-chair of the UTLA Bargaining Team, states, “We met with LAUSD yesterday (Thursday) for our first day of bargaining in preparation for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. We asked many questions about health and safety standards and the logistical planning for a physical reopening of schools, given the need for rigorous health and safety measures to present the spread of COVID-19.
“We expressed grave doubt about the district’s ability to provide the necessary resources and time to physically open schools safely and effectively, given the increase in cases of the virus. We are calling on the district NOT to reopen schools physically but to instead focus negotiations on a robust distance learning program for fall 2020.”
The research paper, “Same Storm but Different Boats: The Safe and Equitable Conditions for Starting LAUSD in 2020-21,” looks at the science behind the specific conditions that must be met in the second-largest school district in the nation before staff and students can safely return.
Even before the spike in infections and Trump’s reckless talk, there were serious issues with starting the year on school campuses. The state and federal governments have not provided the additional resources or funds needed for increased health and safety measures and there is not enough time for the district to put together the detailed, rigorous plans for a safe return to campus.
According to UTLA’s research paper, there is a jarringly disparate rate of COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) working communities, where structural racism and economic inequality mean people live with economic and social factors that increase risk of illness and death.
In these communities, people are more likely to have “essential” jobs, insufficient health care, higher levels of pre-existing health conditions, and live in crowded housing. Because of the forces of structural racism, Blacks, Latinx, and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white residents.
According to the paper, while much about the virus remains unknown, a few facts should be kept in mind:
• This is a highly contagious, deadly disease and the role of children in the transmission of COVID-19 is currently unknown.
• This is a novel virus. Scientists continue to uncover new symptoms and risk factors, and the long-term effects are almost completely unknown.
• LAUSD educates over half a million students, employs over 60,000 adults, and is spread out over 720 square miles.
• As of publication, California case counts and death rates were shattering records and hospitalization rates were increasing.
“UTLA educators are eager to get back to classrooms where they can care for, laugh with, and most importantly, teach our students. But even more than teaching, our job in a pandemic is to keep students and communities safe,” a summary of the report states.
“The eventual restarting of schools should be primarily about learning, not merely about the economy. Unlike other countries that recognize protecting lives is the key to protecting livelihoods, the United States has chosen to prioritize profits over people. The Trump Administration’s attempt to force people to return to work on a large scale depends on restarting schools so parents have childcare.
“Learning happens when students feel safe, and safety is only possible in a broader setting of community preparedness, requiring greater federal and state resources to support a strategy of physical distancing in small, isolated groups, with a strong emphasis on hygiene.
“When politicians exhort educators and other workers to ‘reignite the economy,’ UTLA educators ask: who are you planning to use as kindling? The benefits to restarting schools must outweigh the risks, especially for our most vulnerable students and school communities.”