It’s been a year since California Gov. Gavin Newsom first declared a state of emergency in March 2020 and authorized school closures across the state. In that year, we’ve learned a lot about the risks of COVID-19, and we’ve watched as other states have reopened schools and resumed in-person education.
Subsequent research now shows that allowing face-to-face instruction does not present a risk to either the children or the community, and school closures should be a last resort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Relatedly, we also know that forcing youngsters into online instruction can harm their mental, physical and academic well-being.
But none of this matters to United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and its president, Cecily Myart-Cruz. Instead of allowing its members to return to class months ago, UTLA has been holding the children of Los Angeles hostage as the price of advancing a political agenda.
And parents are ready to fight back.
On Tuesday, four families represented pro bono by the Freedom Foundation, a national non-profit advocacy organization that fights against the abuse of power by public employee unions, filed a first-of-its-kind personal injury lawsuit in California Superior Court against LAUSD, UTLA and UTLA’s fact-challenged president.
All we need to do is consult the record to see UTLA’s priorities.
As part of its initial call for school closures, UTLA released “10 Common Good Community Demands,” which included 15 additional paid sick days for all Los Angeles County workers, a weekly disaster stipend and creation of a food supply network.
None of these items had anything to do with student or teacher safety.
Last July, UTLA issued a revised list of demands for allowing its members to return to class. It included:
- defunding the police;
- enacting single-payer, government-provided healthcare;
- arranging for full funding for housing California’s homeless;
- closing all publicly funded charter schools in California;
- developing a new set of programs that address “systemic racism”; and,
- a $250-million payment from the federal government.
Again, none of these demands would do anything for student or teacher safety, and the subsequent words of Cecily Myart-Cruz leave no doubt that UTLA is more concerned with a political agenda than following the science or helping the kids.
On March 1, Myart-Cruz stated that Gov. Newsom’s re-opening plans were “propagating structural racism,” and claimed that minority communities are being “unfairly targeted by people who are not experiencing this disease in the same ways as students and families are in our communities.”
On March 2, Myart-Cruz again criticized Gov. Newsom’s school re-opening plan because, as she stated, it was being driven by “white wealthy parents,” and “(I)f this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response.”
Myart-Cruz further stated that “(I)f you condition funding on the re-opening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier schools that do not have the transmission rates that low income black and brown communities do.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, UTLA has been more interested in scoring political points it couldn’t achieve without holding Los Angeles children and parents hostage. While state and local officials try desperately to come up with a way to satisfy UTLA and other teacher union demands, it is the children of Los Angeles that continue to suffer.
The continued school closures have wreaked havoc on the lives of the parents in the lawsuit and their children, and children across Los Angeles. Plaintiff H.K.’s son has gone from an outgoing member of his class’s student government to socially isolated, suicidal and addicted to his computer.
Plaintiff A.S.’s son suffers from autism, and since the schools closed, has been unable to complete his classwork.
Plaintiffs A.P. and C.P.’s children began to experience emotional outbursts because of the stress of Zoom classes, and these parents had no choice but to place their children in private schools. This additional cost is borne by the families, adding additional pressure.
If you’re wondering why the parents are represented here (and in their court papers) by their initials instead of by their full names, it’s because they’re afraid of retaliation by UTLA and UTLA-affiliated teachers.
This is how bad the situation has become — parents living in fear of advocating for their own children because of the possibility of union retaliation. But left with no alternative to end their children’s suffering, they came to the Freedom Foundation for help in court.
In their lawsuit, the Los Angeles parents allegations are focused on the legal relationship between their children, LAUSD, and UTLA.
Under the well-established doctrine of in loco parentis, which is Latin for “in the place of a parent,” LAUSD has a legal responsibility to make decisions and act in the best interests of their students. By failing to return the students to class because of UTLA’s obstruction, LAUSD violated this responsibility.
What’s more, UTLA knew about LAUSD’s responsibility and the harm the plaintiffs’ children were suffering and still continued to prevent a return to class.
The parents are asking the court to recognize these legal relationships and their corresponding responsibilities, and to order that UTLA stop putting its political agenda over the health and well-being of the plaintiffs’ children and the other 600,000 students in LAUSD.