United Teachers of Los Angeles, California’s largest teachers union, assailed Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan for a statewide transition back to in-person learning as “propagating structural racism” Monday and demanded that schools remain shuttered until all teachers and staff are fully vaccinated.
Newsom announced the plan to re-open schools over the weekend. It does not mandate a return to in-person learning, but it does include nearly $2 billion in cash incentives for school districts that welcome students back into classrooms before the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
The incentive program “includes districts in counties that are still in the state’s purple tier, with infection rates higher than what teachers unions have said are too unsafe for reopening,” Politico reported.
In a press conference Monday, the head of UTLA claimed that the plan not only put teachers in danger of contracting COVID-19 but also perpetuated “structural racism.”
“We are being unfairly targeted by people who are not experiencing this disease in the same ways as students and families are in our communities. If this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response. We would not have the high rates of infections and deaths,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said, per Politico. “Now educators are asked instead to sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students and the safety of our schools.”
Primarily, though, Myart-Cruz wanted to remind the local school district that the teachers union retains the right to negotiate over a return to classrooms and that the union will demand, at least, that all teachers and staff receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before going to in-person instruction.
“The fact is that the plan does not supersede our legal right to bargain working conditions with LAUSD and our continued determination to do so,” she said.
She also accused Newsom of not “following the science” on coronavirus transmission, even though the science weighs overwhelmingly in favor of allowing children to return to classrooms. Instead, she said that Newsom was following “white, wealthy parents” who are “driving the push behind a rushed return.”
The flaw in California’s plan, at least according to the L.A. teachers union, is that it ties the additional grant money directly to re-opening schools, and the teachers union would prefer that same money be distributed without strings attached.
The L.A. union is, of course, far from the only union to use the return to classrooms as a bargaining chip. The Chicago Teachers Union tried to halt that city’s reopening plan by demanding, similarly, that all teachers be vaccinated before returning to classrooms and that teachers who lived with or cared for a “vulnerable” individual be allowed to remain outside of the classroom indefinitely.
Ultimately, Chicago teachers returned to work, though, without major concessions on the part of the school district.
The Biden administration has been hesitant to weigh in on whether and how students should return to classrooms, although the CDC director did note that complete teacher vaccination is not a necessary prerequisite to in-person learning.