School district, teachers reach start-of-year agreement

From City News Service

LOS ANGELES — Members of the Los Angeles Unified School Board of Education heaped praise on distance-learning plans for the fall Aug. 4, on a day that county public health officials confirmed they will not even consider waivers allowing some classes to be held in person.

California health officials have barred school campuses from reopening this fall in counties that are on the state’s coronavirus watch list due to high case counts or other issues controlling the spread of the virus. But the state guidelines open the door for individual districts to seek waivers — based on more localized coronavirus conditions — that would allow in-person instruction for classes up to sixth grade.

While the school board was reviewing distance-learning plans for fall, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a statement confirming that it will not be considering any waiver requests.

Health officials said the state is recommending against waivers in counties that have virus rates of 200 cases or more per 100,000 residents. Los Angeles County’s current rate is 355 per 100,000 residents.

We know that to many families, this is a disappointing announcement, but it’s based on the existing science and data that is guiding all of our decision-making,” the county statement said . “We need to ensure the health and safety of our children, school teachers and staff and all of their families.”

The pronouncement was not surprising, given the number of cases in Los Angeles County, which has been a hotspot for the virus throughout the pandemic. During the school board meeting, Superintendent Austin Beutner and schools chief David Baca walked through some virus case numbers, with Baca indicating that LAUSD had no immediate intention of seeking a waiver anyway.

After weeks of discussion, the district announced a tentative labor agreement with the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union Aug. 3 outlining plans for holding remote classes when the district resumes classes the week of Aug. 17. The board was given an overview of the plans and several members spoke strongly in support, but the panel has not yet taken a formal vote on the pact with UTLA.

UTLA’s membership is expected to vote on the pact next week, according to the union. It was unclear when the school board will vote on the agreement, but it will likely occur next week.

During the presentation, board member George McKenna said he was immensely impressed” with the plan and the amount of work that district staff had invested in it.

I think we’re far ahead of any other school district, certainly of our size, that I’m aware of,” he said.

Under the plan, while the school year will begin the week of Aug. 17, no actual instruction will be held until Aug. 20, following several orientation days for teachers and students.

The goal is to have as much teacher-led interaction with students as possible,” Beutner said Aug. 3, noting that revamped distanced learning — mostly online — “will have more structure and standards and increased interaction between teachers and students.”

Schools will provide one-on-one support both in person and online, for students who need it most, he said.

Highlights of the tentative agreement reached between the two sides include: an average school day from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.; targeted small group instruction; daily attendance; opportunities for small group and independent student work; social emotional support; instructional training; flexibility for teachers to work on campus or from home; office hours for students and families to connect with teachers; and more.

LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez praised the deal’s inclusion of support for educators and staff, particularly by offering them child care.

We have to recognize of course that distance learning has been a big shift for our educators and it’s challenging, especially for teachers with kids at home,” she said. “So I appreciate that we’re providing more training and more support to help our teachers help our kids.

As a mom with two young children at home who is in and out of many Zoom meetings all day, I know how important that child care piece is,” she said. “So I’m so grateful that we’re taking the steps to provide child care for the young members of our teachers’ families and the rest of our staff so they can provide students with the support that they need, meet with colleagues, create lesson plans without the additional challenge of also having to wrangle their kids at the same time, as I am very familiar with.”

The parent group Innovate Public Schools and Parent Revolution issued a statement questioning the deal between the district and the teachers union, saying students desperately need an improvement over the distance-learning environment that began in March and was marred by some lax student participation and complaints about students’ access to technology.

The new agreement still does not prioritize students at the center,” the group’s statement said. “It raises significant concerns about the well-being of students and is an insufficient improvement over the failed remote learning environment too many families experienced last spring. If yet another semester of learning is lost, students will never get the opportunity back and the harm will be felt for lifetimes, especially for students in communities already underserved by our public school system.”

School board member Jackie Goldberg reached out to parents, asking for their help to ensure students get the education they need.

We are going to have failures, we are going to have things that aren’t going to work perfectly,” she said. “We’re going to try our best to make everything work well, but it isn’t going to and you know that. It doesn’t even when we’re all in schools in the physical presence of one another. So knowing that, I just ask all of the parents to find a way to see if you can help when you’re asking for a resolution to problems that will come up.”

In other action, the LAUSD board unanimously voted to place a $7 billion bond measure on the Nov. 3 ballot to fund a series of construction projects throughout the district. The measure will require support from 55% of voters in the district to pass.

Although bonds are repaid through property taxes, district officials said the bond measure would not result in any increase in the tax rate because of other bond payments that are expiring.

More than 70% of our schools are over 50 years old and our students should not have to learn in substandard, outdated facilities,” board President Richard Vladovic said.

According to the district, the bonds would also improve accessibility and earthquake safety at campuses, while also expanding early childhood and adult education programs, upgrading school cafeterias and providing cleaner school buses.