Back to school? Parents, educators still hesitant about in-person learning until COVID cases drop, more vaccines

A group of parents, students and educators representing the “Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles” coalition on Saturday, February 20 organized a car caravan and rally in front of the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in Downtown LA calling for safety standards before schools reopen. | Photo courtesy of Reclaim Our Schools LA

LAUSD to allow some on-campus activities in March 

THE Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is slated to welcome back certain on-campus activities by the first week of March, but some parents and educators have several demands before the nation’s second-largest school district returns to in-person instruction.

The district will begin its partial reopening next week with child care, one-on-one and small group instruction, services for students with special needs, and athletic conditioning.

Campuses across the district have been closed since last March as COVID-19 cases broke out in LA county. But in mid-February, the LA County Department of Health gave the green light for schools to resume in-person classes when the county reached the state’s threshold, despite it still being in the purple tier, which indicates COVID-19 is still a widespread risk and certain sectors remain closed.

The United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union for the district, will also be voting on the issue of a safe return, and is pushing for certain conditions to be met before adopting a hybrid or in-person instruction model.

The conditions include: the county must be out of the purple tier; staff must be fully vaccinated or have access to vaccines; and implementing safety measures, such as PPE, social distancing, ventilation and a cleaning regimen.

“The pressure building to return to schools is political. It is not science,” the union said in a statement on Monday.

Cecille Cervancia — a Filipina American second grade teacher in the McArthur Park-Westlake area — said a lot of educators like herself are anxious about the reopening announcements knowing how members of her school community, as well as district staff, have been infected with COVID-19 when school buildings were closed.

“I’m worried about the safety and health of our school community. We’ve had whole families infected with COVID,” Cervancia, who is the chair of her school’s UTLA chapter, told the Asian Journal. “In the district, we’ve had teachers, administrators, and school staff who have gotten COVID and while some recovered, we’ve lost some from the virus. So I think this is why a lot of us have some anxieties about around this.”

A group of parents, students and educators representing the “Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles” coalition on Saturday, February 20 organized a car caravan in front of the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in Downtown LA echoing that safety standards be in place before schools reopen.

They also are calling for the district to listen to the concerns of the Asian and Pacific Islander, Black and Latino communities — which have all been disproportionately affected by the pandemic — and more investments in distance learning.

Mark Ramos, a high school social studies teacher and parent of a young student in the district, reiterated how students of color and their families would be the most affected by the reopenings.

“If we look at it with an Asian American or a Filipino American lens, we have a lot of Filipino family members that are working at hospitals and are putting their lives on the line every day,” Ramos, a UTLA board member, told the Asian Journal.

Filipino students comprise 2.1% of the school district’s nearly 700,000 student population based on 2019-2020 enrollment data from the district.

“As a teacher, I don’t think that’s fair for my students, to put them in a situation where their lives, their family’s lives, could be lost because we opened up in a way that isn’t safe,” Ramos added.

He also pointed out the potential “instability” that could come in the event campuses have to shut down again if students or staff test positive for COVID-19.

“That brings even more instability for students and teachers who are already struggling to keep it together and trying to do this new type of teaching and learning,” Ramos said. “It’s going to be hard for folks to go back and then close again. It’s almost like going through a traumatic experience every two weeks.”

The district has put off an immediate reopening following the county’s announcement but has signaled that preschools and elementary schools would be back for in-person by April 9.

“My goal of April 9th is still possible, but we need to start today, not tomorrow, not next week. We stand ready to work with state and local health authorities — get us the doses and we’ll get it done,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said during his weekly video update on Monday, February 22.

The reopening also comes as the county is expanding its vaccine eligibility on March 1 to include educators, child care providers and school support staff. Governor Gavin Newsom announced that at least 10% of the state’s vaccine supply would be allocated for educators, which is about 75,000 shots a week.

The LAUSD opened its first vaccination center on Feb. 17 at the Roybal Learning Center in the Westlake neighborhood of LA, but has prioritized employees 65 and older in line with the state’s distribution plan.

“We want to make sure vaccines are widely available to all the school staff, not just the teachers, but anyone who works on campus from office staff, maintenance staff and community reps and volunteers,” Cervancia said.

Meanwhile, parents who are eager to have their children back in classrooms have planned Zoom blackout protests in an effort to pressure district leaders and the union to reopen.

“I just really want them to see what it’s like from our point of view because we’ve lost educators and we’ve lost our loved ones,” Cervancia said in response to these protests.

“We’re doing the best we can and so many of us want to be back in the classroom, but we want to do it when it’s safe.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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