Although outgoing LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced on Monday that the district will offer five-day-a-week, in-person instruction to all students this fall, it appears to be something less than a guarantee that the school year will be “back to normal.”
For one thing, negotiations are continuing between the district and UTLA, the union that represents over 30,000 teachers, counselors and others. Just last week, union president Cecily Myart-Cruz was on KPCC radio warning, “it’s going to take more than Newsom and anyone else saying, yes, we should be back like it was.”
So, what is it going to take?
The teachers’ union president spoke directly to the elected officials that she assumed were listening in the audience. “For all the local leaders tuning in,” she began, offering “my thoughts on how schools reopen in the fall….”
Myart-Cruz said elected leaders should go to the “parts of the city or community hardest hit by COVID-19 and have a conversation with those families” about “their needs and wants from the public education system,” and then “utilize the monies from the American Rescue Plan to make those needs and wants a reality.” This, she said, is “what it will take to ensure that we can equitably reopen our schools five days a week for all students in the fall.”
The school board already voted to spend an extra $700 million on schools that meet a formula created by a coalition of community groups; the formula apportions more money to schools in areas where asthma rates are higher and there is more gun violence.
That’s separate from what Myart-Cruz is demanding. If meeting the “needs and wants” of unspecified families as a condition of reopening the schools seems a little vague, fear not, the union has also provided a more specific list of demands.
UTLA told the district it wants class sizes reduced and 1,000 more teachers hired. It also wants the district to hire 1,800 new counselors, psychologists and social workers; also 300 special education providers, 300 instructional services employees, and 50 new art, music and drama teachers.
The union wants a ban on the transfer of teachers to other campuses in response to changing enrollment, as well as a ban on combining elementary classes and asking teachers to teach two grade levels in the same class.
And UTLA also wants more money. The union says the district should offer signing bonuses and salary increases to attract and retain teachers.
If the teachers don’t get what they want, they may not agree to teach in a classroom where desks are less than 6 feet apart. That would throw reopening plans into chaos because the classrooms won’t be large enough to accommodate all the students, leading to a complicated split schedule or even a return to distance learning.
“Let’s be clear,” Myart-Cruz told KPCC, “there won’t be a return to ‘a normal.’ A global pandemic has shaped our ‘normal’ and this is a time for actual transformational education.”
There’s more than one kind of transformation. On Sunday, angry parents took to the streets near downtown L.A. and marched from LAUSD headquarters to the headquarters of the teachers’ union 2.5 miles away. Openly threatening more recall elections, the parents demanded a seat at the bargaining table, a pledge from school board members that they will not accept campaign donations from unions that have contracts with the district, a full reopening of schools in the fall, and a commitment to follow only the latest guidance from federal health officials, not the demands of teachers’ unions.
Some parents want even more transformation than that.
The Pasadena-based California School Choice Foundation is organizing support for a ballot initiative to reform education. One proposal would strengthen charter schools and protect them from attack by union-backed legislation. Another proposal would create Education Savings Accounts and require the state to deposit the per-pupil spending allocation for each student into individual accounts that parents could use to send their child to any accredited school, public or private.
If that’s on the ballot in November 2022, enough seething-mad parents, grandparents and newly registered 18-year-old voters could turn out to pass it. We may find out that no one wants to go “back to normal.”
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley
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