Union del Barrio is a political organization founded nearly 40 years ago, and today we continue our work of defending the rights of our community and all working-class people. In Los Angeles, many of our members are educators and proud members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the teacher’s union of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Our organization sees it as our responsibility to organize in defense of public schools and against education’s privatization.
On March 10, 2021, LAUSD and UTLA announced that they reached a tentative agreement to reopen all LAUSD schools in April 2021. While we generally agree with UTLA’s position, today, we respectfully reject the proposed Tentative Agreement. We appreciate UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz’s hard work, and we acknowledge the union’s effort to defend the well-being of our students and teachers. However, the plan for hybrid learning in the tentative agreement falls short for efficacy and safety.
The current debate around the reopening of schools during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is extremely serious. The sole deciding factor that should determine when and how to reopen schools should be the safety of all students, teachers, workers, and the community. Yet, it seems that corporations and their relentless greed are having a say in this discussion as they push for the reopening of schools and disregard the adverse impact this may have on millions of our working-class people.
We unite with UTLA’s efforts to ensure that LAUSD implements higher COVID-19 safety standards at all school sites and full access to vaccination for all school staff. However, we believe that reopening schools in April before the great majority of our community is vaccinated would be irresponsible and life-threatening to the communities the district serves. Our communities continue to be devastated by COVID-19, and the reopening of schools in April can potentially exacerbate those conditions.
We urge ALL UTLA members to VOTE NO on the Tentative Agreement
We call on the members of UTLA to reject the tentative agreement and push for schools to stay closed until at least June 2021 (Summer School) or until everyone in Los Angeles has had the opportunity to get vaccinated.
We understand that not sending children to school has caused severe hardships to working-class families. However, we cannot agree to the current Tentative Agreement and risk putting any child, educator, or community member at risk of contracting this disease. COVID has already claimed more than 537,000 lives in the U.S. and has been identified as causing potentially long-term pulmonary and cardiovascular complications. We must protect our youth and future just as much as we protect our elderly. That we sufficiently protected the elderly is still up for debate.
The public in general and parents/guardians, in particular, should also be aware that the proposed hybrid learning instructional plan that the district has provided is grossly insufficient as it does not improve learning for students. In fact, it does the opposite while unnecessarily putting our kids at a greater risk.
At the primary education level, instruction time has been reduced to only three hours per day. Elementary students deserve and need consistency in instruction as well as a safe learning environment.
At the high school level, asking teachers to provide instruction to students remotely while at the same time supervising a different cohort of students in front of them is a recipe for disaster and in no way in alignment with the instructional practices that should be a part of any classroom environment. In essence, the district proposal would require students and teachers to continue distance learning but on-site. Students would not receive any in-person instruction for any of their core classes. The proposed instructional plan in this Tentative Agreement would not be meaningful or productive for students or teachers. Instead, it would create an environment full of distractions, and it would stifle learning. It would place everyone at risk of COVID-19 unnecessarily.
Ironically, LAUSD has begun pushing for social-emotional learning and anti-racist training. Yet, the disproportionate impact that reopening schools in April will have on communities of color will go directly against both concepts and be objectively racist. The students that will be impacted the most are those that come from our most economically disadvantaged communities.
We are currently seeing a strong resurgence of COVID-19 all over Europe, Brazil and in other places of the world. In fact, the first case of the second Brazilian strand of COVID-19 has just been confirmed in Riverside County. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced that every resident of the city would have access to the COVID-19 vaccine by June 2021, which would be more than a month after hundreds of thousands of students, faculty and staff would return to schools without the vaccine. In the meantime, the mayor also announced the vast and swift reopening of many businesses right before Spring Break, which may very likely lead to another spike in COVID-19 infections. That should give us ample reasons to be prudent and to keep children and families safe by waiting to reopen in the fall of 2021 when vaccines have been made available to the majority of the population.
A large number of anxious parents and guardians feel it is not yet safe for their children to return to schools in the middle of this pandemic. All parents and guardians deserve to be heard and taken into account, not just the privileged or rich parents who have the luxury of rallying in Westwood in the middle of a workday.
Political and economic reasons behind the forced reopening of schools
A significant reason why Governor Newsom is pushing for the reopening of schools is to save his job by appeasing the powerful pro-business forces behind the recall campaign to oust him. Likewise, many corporations and the Chamber of Commerce are exerting tremendous pressure on LAUSD to reopen. We know that their sole interests are the profits and the well-being of corporations and capitalism, whose flow of profits is curbed by closures due to this economically inconvenient pandemic. It is clear that corporate bosses do not care about the health and well-being of “essential workers,” a deceptive label which is really code for working-class people who do not have the luxury of working from home.
We denounce Democratic Party politicians like Joe Buscaino who opportunistically have politicized the reopening of schools to advance his own political agenda and ambitions. We also condemn other Democratic Party elected officials who have made the conscious decision to stay silent about the forced reopening of schools even though doing so will put many of their constituents at greater risk of possibly contracting COVID-19.
We must put people’s lives before the profits of the rich. We urge UTLA members to VOTE NO on this Tentative Agreement, as this will literally be a life or death situation for hundreds of thousands of people. The question is not IF students and district employees will contract COVID-19 at schools; the real question is HOW MANY?
We pledge our continued support for UTLA and public education
Our organization commits itself to continue working with and supporting UTLA to ensure that our school communities remain safe. We strongly denounce those who have sent hate mail to President Myart-Cruz to pressure her to support the reopening of schools. Our organization will support the reopening of schools only once it is safe to do so. We call on the community to support their local schools, UTLA and everyone working to make the return to the classroom as safe as possible! If the members of UTLA vote to reject the Tentative Agreement and LAUSD continues to try to force the schools to reopen, we urge the UTLA rank and file to organize and respond. A rejection of the Tentative Agreement would NOT forfeit teacher’s rights and it would not lead to allowing the district to reopen as they wish. It would signify the willingness of UTLA members to continue to defend the well-being of all students, teachers and the city of Los Angeles.
Every member of our community is valuable. Without parents/guardians, students, and teachers, our schools will not function. If necessary, we will organize to support a UTLA strike as we did in January of 2019.
Que vivan l@s maestr@s en lucha! (Long live the teachers in struggle!)