August 1, 2021

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Los Angeles Schools and Teachers’ Union Agree to Reopen Classrooms – The New York Times

4 min read

The Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers’ union have reached a tentative agreement to restore in-person instruction, clearing the way for a mid-April reopening of some classrooms in one of the last large school districts to bring students back in substantial numbers.

The deal, contingent on teacher vaccinations against the coronavirus, extensive health measures and the county’s impending exit from the state’s most restrictive tier of health regulations, was announced on Tuesday evening in a joint statement by the district superintendent, Austin Beutner, and the union president, Cecily Myart-Cruz.

“The right way to reopen schools must include the highest standard of Covid safety in schools, continued reduction of the virus in the communities we serve and access to vaccinations for school staff,” they said. “This agreement achieves that shared set of goals.”

The agreement is subject to approval by the district’s school board and ratification of the membership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union. The two sides have been negotiating for eight months over the terms of an in-person return.

Under the tentative deal, elementary school and high-need students — those with learning disabilities, problems accessing technology and other academic issues — will be brought back in about six weeks, to allow time for returning school employees to be fully vaccinated, according to officials familiar with district negotiations.

As middle school and high school teachers become inoculated, those students will then be phased in, with a goal of offering in-person options to all students by May.

Officials said that, at most, instruction will be a blend of remote and in-person teaching, allowing students to go into school for several hours a week in small, stable cohorts while still taking classes online. The last day of school is June 11, and the district expects to again offer summer school.

California began immunizing teachers statewide this month, with Gov. Gavin Newsom setting aside 10 percent of new doses for school employees. About 38,000 of the Los Angeles district’s 86,000 teachers and other support personnel have been vaccinated, given appointments or waived the privilege, Mr. Beutner said. Most of those have been employed in preschools and elementary schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that many schools, particularly for younger grades, can be at least partly reopened with proper safety measures before all staff members are vaccinated.

The Los Angeles district, with more than 600,000 students, has been the only one of the nation’s 10 largest school districts not to bring back a significant number of students, and it is among the last large districts in the state to settle on a reopening plan with its unions.

That has been partly because of a brutal post-holiday surge in Southern California coronavirus infections. But the lag also has arisen from protracted labor negotiations with teachers, who refused to return without vaccinations for every school employee who would be called back in person, and who insisted on a significantly lower daily rate of new coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.

The union also demanded extensive health precautions, including coronavirus tests and upgraded ventilation in school buildings.

In a vote last week, more than 90 percent of union members endorsed those three conditions for a return to classrooms. This week, with the virus ebbing across the region, Los Angeles County was expected to exit the state’s strictest tier of regulations.

It is unclear how many families will take advantage of in-person schooling. In the most recent district survey, conducted in the fall, two-thirds of households said they would not send their children back in the near future.

Only among white families did a majority of respondents want an in-person return. Eighty percent of the district’s students are low income and 82 percent are Black or Latino, all groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

In the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Mr. Newsom said “there’s nothing more foundational to an equitable society than getting our kids safely back into classrooms.”

“Look, Jen and I live this as parents of four young children,” Mr. Newsom said, echoing the pandemic frustrations of many California parents. “Helping them cope with the fatigue of ‘Zoom school.’ The loneliness of missing their friends. Frustrated by emotions they don’t yet fully understand.”

He also noted that the state had committed $6.6 billion for tutoring, summer school, extended school days and mental health programs.

“We can do this,” the governor said. “The science is sound.”

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