L.A. Schools Chief Resists Reopening, Citing Covid-19 ‘Rampage’
(Bloomberg) -- Reopening schools in America’s second-largest city is turning into a battle, pitting teachers and administrators against politicians, doctors and even some health officials.
Most of the 1.5 million children in the Los Angeles area have been out of classrooms for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a local pediatricians group. They called for campuses to reopen in a statement to the community this week, arguing that the prolonged absence is accelerating educational inequality and harming the mental health of students.
Los Angeles City Council President Pro Tem Joe Buscaino agrees with the doctors and said Thursday he’ll ask the city to consider a lawsuit similar to one San Francisco filed to force schools to reopen.
The Los Angeles Unified School District fired back Friday, with Superintendent Austin Beutner saying that while there are protocols in place to safely reopen campuses, case counts remain too high. San Francisco, he said, had successfully lowered virus levels, while his city has fumbled the handling of the pandemic by allowing businesses to reopen and closing testing locations.
“Los Angeles is a national example of how governmental dysfunction has allowed the virus to rampage out of control,” Beutner said. LAUSD is home to a little less than half of the area’s public-school population.
Read more: Chicago delays in-person classes
Fights over reopening schools are playing out all over the country and complicating efforts by President Joe Biden to make good on a promise to reopen schools in the first 100 days of his administration. He’s facing resistance in many big cities, particularly from teachers unions.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall effort over his handling of the pandemic, announced a plan on Dec. 30 to allocate money to reopen schools.
Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County’s public-health department, said this week that schools are nearing the case level that would allow reopening. She said late last month that they might reopen in two to three weeks.
Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, said in an online Jan. 29 presentation that Ferrer’s statements were “misleading” and creating “false hope” in the community.
“It’s certainly unsafe now,” Myart-Cruz said.
The state has failed to create safe conditions for reopening, and politicians are kowtowing to business interests by letting restaurants and hair salons reopen before new cases and deaths subside, according to Myart-Cruz.
Newsom’s reopening plan is putting poor and minority communities at risk because virus conditions are worse there than in richer neighborhoods, she said. Vaccinating teachers won’t be enough for schools to safely reopen because kids can’t get the shots and they risk catching the illness and bringing it back to their families, Myart-Cruz said. She also praised Chicago teachers for threatening to strike against school reopening there.
“Educators want to be back in the classroom, but as the pandemic continues to ravage our communities, we are in the untenable position of fighting to save lives because our elected officials have failed to do so,” she said.
Beutner, who supervises the second-largest school district in the country, behind New York, said in a statement last week that while Newsom’s plan to reopen “falls well short of what’s needed to help our schools,” he was submitting LAUSD’s reopening plans to the state so that he could ensure access to potentially tens of millions of dollars of aid.
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