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L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Buscaino’s Motion to Sue LAUSD Opposed by Feuer

On Feb. 10 Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer rejected City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s motion to sue the Los Angeles Unified School District to force the unsafe reopening of school campuses (“in-person instruction immediately”) even as more variants are found spreading in the community that are far more contagious than the original coronavirus.

In a released statement, the United Teachers of Los Angeles saluted Feuer’s action, explaining that the motion to reopen immediately “Is political theater that opportunistically feeds off of people’s frustrations. It also clearly panders to the business community’s desire to accelerate employees’ return to work even as COVID-19 outbreaks at workplaces have soared dramatically. “This push for unsafe reopenings is harmful to all of Los Angeles, but particularly the Black and brown communities these two (Buscaino and Cedillo) are supposed to represent.”

In a letter signed by more than 800 educators, parents, students and community members in Buscaino’s district, his motion was condemned for political grandstanding.

In a letter signed by more than 800 educators, parents, students and community members in Buscaino’s district, his motion was condemned for political grandstanding. In the letter, Buscaino was called to focus his efforts instead on reinvesting in schools to make them genuinely safe.

“Calling for a safe reopening of schools should include a comprehensive plan to vaccinate educators and the families of our most vulnerable students,” the letter read in part. “A safe reopening should include discussions with our labor unions, district leaders, and low-income Black and brown families whose children attend our schools. A safe reopening should include advocating for more funding and resources for your community, not shifting our already-limited resources to a legal battle over our health and safety.”

On Feb. 8, Councilman Buscaino asked his colleagues on the Los Angeles City Council to request the City Attorney to file suit against the LAUSD.

“Join me and Councilmember Gil Cedillo on behalf of the nearly 600,000 LAUSD students who have gone nearly a year without classroom learning,” Buscaino said, “to work together with the teacher’s union, the County, and the State to reopen LAUSD campuses safely.”

To bolster their argument, they cited Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and 1,500 pediatricians from the Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics who support opening schools as long as “safety protocols are followed, using social distancing, masks, hand-washing and facilities modifications.”

In response to the motion, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health presented to the council their requisites for school reopenings, explaining:

  • Once adjusted case rate is below 25 per 100,000 for five consecutive days, all elementary schools can reopen if compliant with State and County directives.
  • If a school has not been approved for a waiver, it cannot reopen until the county case rate is below 25 per 100,000 for 5 consecutive days.

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz’s Feb. 5 weekly Facebook Live update explained teacher’s concerns in a presentation entitled, “We must take politics out of the pandemic. Let’s listen to scientists.”

Myart-Cruz blasted Buscaino and Cedillo’s call to immediately reopen schools for in-person instruction as being motivated by politics rather than science.

“When Gov. Gavin Newsom says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines, he should also tell us what he believes a safe number of deaths associated with that would be,” Myart-Cruz said. “People are willfully ignoring the science and facts to score political points or, let’s be honest, to try to knock educators and unions down a peg. We will not allow this.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz

Cecily Myart-Cruz

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Myart-Cruz noted that at no point since school buildings were closed this past March has Los Angeles County been out of the purple tier — purple tiers mean there’s still widespread COVID-19 transmission in the county and that nearly all businesses have to keep indoor operations closed or severely limited.

This past November, Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was unsafe to reopen schools and that all teachers should be vaccinated. Now, in February, infection rates are six times higher than they were in November but Newsom has changed his tune and now says schools are safe to reopen without vaccines for educators.

Studies show that schools are safe if community transmission is under control and mitigation measures are in place. That’s not the case in Los Angeles County.

Myart-Cruz noted that children have a higher rate of asymptomatic infection. In LAUSD (the only school district in the state to offer widespread COVID testing) 1 in 3 children have tested positive for COVID-19.

The teacher’s union leader went on to blast politicians and those who minimize the impact of COVOID-19 on working class families. “Saying the temporary trauma from Crisis Distance Learning is greater than the illness and death of family members minimizes the reality that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts poor, Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander families in Los Angeles,” Myart-Cruz said. “It is the working-class families of LA who suffer the most, our elected county and state officials have made the decision to let this disease run rampant.”

Myart-Cruz called on Buscaino to stop the divisive rhetoric. “Instead, we want to know what will he and other local and state officials do in these next crucial weeks to get the virus under control in order to save lives and reopen schools?” Myart-Cruz said.

The leader of UTLA called for, “Vaccines for school educators and staff, in addition to mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, and low community transmission rates. That is the path based on science and the path that puts the health and safety of our school staff, our students, and their families before politics.”

Long Beach is already vaccinating teachers to speed up school openings. At the same time, within LA County, private schools such as Wesley in North Hollywood is open having received vaccines for their teachers and staff.

California State University wants teachers vaccinated before reopening In a related development, California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro told EdSource that his priority is safely reopening the state’s 23 campuses for in-person classes this fall, but hinges on all teachers being vaccinated and implementing other density and safety protocols.

Opposition to reopening classrooms without vaccinating teachers is spreading around the country. Fights are taking place in Chicago, Indianapolis and other cities.

Chicago teachers return to work Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) 25,000 members have voted two-to-one in favor of a reopening deal with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), signaling that in-person classes can resume Feb. 11.

Union President Jesse Sharkey acknowledged some wins for the CTU bargaining team, including a delayed reopening, enforceable safety commitments, vaccine promises and additional remote work accommodations, he called it a “disgrace” that CPS would not delay reopening a few more weeks to allow more time for vaccinations and preparations. “So many families stood behind CTU because the union was fighting for not just school staff, but for children and their communities.”

Halle Quezada, a second-grade teacher at Boone Elementary, said while she had outstanding concerns about accommodations and other health and safety factors, her “no” vote was heavily influenced by the treatment of 55 employees facing discipline for their communications with parents according to the Chicago Tribune.

Thus, unfortunately, despite the hopes of many, teachers will not be vaccinated before classes begin in-person.

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This leaves many fearful of their own health and the viability of the plan. And the county is still well behind vaccinating seniors, with only 20 percent of those over 65 have received the vaccine.

Mark Friedman