United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the teachers union of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), announced over the weekend that all teachers would not be returning to classrooms unless their demands were met, potentially costing the LAUSD millions in post-COVID funding from the state.
The decision came following a vote by 24,850 UTLA teachers in which 91% voted to not return to schools. The UTLA had previously said that they would not come back unless Los Angeles County moves out of the purple reopening tier, that all school employees either receive or are offered the vaccine, and that all schools have proper safety conditions upon returns, such as proper PPE and sanitization.
While LA County is due to leave the purple tier in the next few weeks and school safety conditions have largely already been met, there has been significant debate over teacher vaccinations. Teachers unions have been calling for vaccinations as a prerequisite in many states. Many, including California, have even moved up teachers in vaccination tiers to get to them sooner. However, teacher vaccination prerequisites have also been contradicted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who have said that they are not needed to reopen schools.
Nonetheless, the UTLA maintains that not being vaccinated equals an unsafe working environment, with UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz insisting on vaccinations for all teachers before returning.
“This vote signals that members are prepared to refuse to accept an unsafe work assignment, but will instead remain committed to distance learning until the three safety criteria are met,” said Myart-Cruz during the weekend. “Our goal is to create as much stability and consistency for our students. No one wants to open only to have to close again, which is a realistic possibility if safety measures are not put into place first.”
Myart-Cruz also highlighted the fact that 91% of the UTLA voted to not go back without vaccines.
“That’s powerful,” added Myart-Cruz. “UTLA members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites.”
However, the UTLA refusing to back into schools, as well as the LAUSD not yet having a firm date on returning to in-class instruction due to the UTLA not yet agreeing to a date, may cost the district millions of dollars.
This is largely due to the fact that $2 billion of the $6.6 billion recently passed by the state to reopen schools across California by April 1st includes a provision that 1% of funding will be deducted for each day that schools don’t return after April 1st. While the LAUSD will still get a share of the remaining $4.6 billion in funding, none of that money is specifically earmarked for safety improvements around COVID-19, such as ventilation system upgrades and PPE.
Due to the UTLA unwillingness to bring teachers back, setting a firm return date, costing schools millions of dollars, and denying students better in-class education despite the state giving the green light, many Los Angeles parent and education groups decried the actions of the UTLA on Monday.
“We’ve been protesting to reopen for a long time now. Since last year,” explained Jayne Mendoza, a parent group leader at her child’s school in Los Angeles. “This has been incredibly frustrating. We have students who really need to be back inside a classroom. Many are young and need that social touch. Others need to learn English, or receive special attention, or and this is serious, actually learn correctly because remote learning is not working.”
“And it will cost the schools a lot of money. We’ve been talking with some officials, and there has been no dollar figure attached, but for our school they were planning a re-haul of the air-conditioning at the very least for better ventilation. We might have summer school, so this will not only help reduce the spread of any COVID-19, but it will also keep our kids more comfortable during hotter weather. Two birds with one stone. But if the teachers still say no, then we may not get it.”
“I know the teachers at my school, and they are good at teaching. But as people, by holding kids hostage like this for a vaccine, it’s amazingly selfish. And I guess it is teaching the kids that they don’t matter as much to them than themselves.”
While the LAUSD is expected to get around 25,000 more doses sometime in the next few weeks for teachers, it is currently unknown when school is to begin in-class again in Los Angeles. A mid-April return had earlier been rejected by UTLA due to vaccine concerns. As of Monday, the LAUSD has not given a projected date to return, despite others, such as the San Francisco Unified School District, already announcing a return in April.
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