The United Teachers of Los Angeles and the nation’s second-largest school district reached a tentative agreement last week to reopen campuses, and parents at two rallies marking the first anniversary of the L.A. school shutdowns Saturday expressed their concerns that the plan—which goes to a union ratification vote this week—isn’t adequate.
Parents at Saturday demonstrations in South L.A.’s Ted Watkins Memorial Park and Fairfax’s Pan Pacific Park said they were excluded from negotiations between UTLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District, which resulted in an agreement that would allow elementary school kids back only in small, staggered groups for half-days. Middle and high school students, meanwhile, would be confined to one classroom all day Monday through Friday, with all academic work still being done online, even when they’re at school in person.
The other option, open to parents of students at every level, is to not return to campus at all.
“We as parents are here to say bring us to the table,” Lydia Friend, a leader of the Ted Watkins Park rally, told the Los Angeles Times.
School board member Tanya Franklin, whose district includes Watts, agreed that parents have not been given enough input, telling the Times, “I don’t know that we’ve done enough to be deeply engaged with our families who have vastly diverse experiences. It’s obviously been such a challenge the last year. But they’re not wrong and need a stronger voice moving forward.”
I will be one of the speakers tomorrow at the Reopen Schools Rally at Pan-Pacific Park @ 10am. We made some progress but we want 5 full days of school in the fall and it won't happen unless we continue our fight to #openschools pic.twitter.com/eKjHAxPQeY
— Cynthia Rojas (@cynrojasla) March 12, 2021
At Pan Pacific Park, Agnes Novie called the plan “atrocious” because it would limit on-campus time for her 17-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son while forcing them to continue relying on Zoom schooling. She says her children, students at Palisades Charter High School, have already suffered academically and emotionally from a year of remote learning and that it’s hard to get them out of their rooms.
Novie has also grown increasingly weary of leaders of both LAUSD and UTLA as she’s watched school districts across the country open their doors.
“I’m frustrated and angry,” she said. “I don’t know why we haven’t figured this out.”
Her husband, Ross Novie—founder of the group L.A. School Uprising—is also frustrated with how long it’s taken officials come up with any kind of plan, even one that doesn’t seem to satisfy anybody.
“Look, this deal that they just came up with—which is too little, far too late—they should have been ready with a plan as soon as cases dropped, which they knew it would,” he told ABC 7. “They should have been ready to enact the plan—not to start asking people, ‘Who’s going back?’”
Other Pan Pacific Park demonstrators echoed those feelings, holding up signs reading “Zoom is not school” and “I miss my friends,” and chanting, “Open schools!” and “Five days in fall!”
Michelle Dorsey-Corbin is sending her six-year-old back to Purche Avenue Elementary in Gardena “because even part time is better than what she has now,” but said the proposal for high school students like her daughter—who is expected to be present at King/Drew Medical Magnet High School in Willowbrook just to login to online classes—doesn’t quite make sense.
“I’m still trying to understand it,” she told the Times. “It does feel better, in a sense, because if you have questions there will be someone to answer.”
Addressing questions of safety during a Saturday call-in panel, UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said students will not eat in class, as they will be wearing face masks at all times, and refusing biweekly COVID tests will not be an option for either students or teachers. To prevent widening the already massive disparity between wealthy areas and the rest of L.A., schools also will not reopen based on improving community health conditions.
Additionally, students will be barred from using play structures, but they’ll be given “stretch breaks so students will not feel like they are trapped all day,” Myart-Cruz said.
As the agreement stands, preschool and elementary schools will reopen in mid-April, with secondary schools following by the end of April.
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