Los Angeles Teachers Union Votes ‘To Resist A Premature’ Return To School Sites

NBC’s L.A. affiliate reports union has threatened to “strike” if forced back too soon.
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: An empty classroom is seen at Hollywood High School on August 13, 2020 in Hollywood, California.
Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

The largest teachers union in Los Angeles announced on Friday that its members “voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites,” backing “safety demands” they say must be fulfilled before resuming in-person instruction in the nation’s second-largest public school district.

According to United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), 91% of the 24,580 ballots cast supported union leadership’s recommendation “to refuse to return for full or hybrid physical reopening of schools” until certain conditions are met. The voting took place over a five-day period, beginning Monday, March 1, and ending Friday at 5:00 pm. Only 2,100 members opposed the proposal, the union said.

“This vote signals that in these most trying times, our members will not accept a rushed return that would endanger the safety of educators, students, and families,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz.

UTLA represents more than 33,000 educators, counselors, and librarians working in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves more than 600,000 K-12 students at over 1,000 schools. Most students began taking classes online last March in an attempt to help contain coronavirus transmission.

Myart-Cruz vowed more than a week ago to “reject any fixed date that ignores the elements of a safe return.” She told UTLA members that they would decide whether to support “three key safety demands” for returning to campus that union officials had presented to LAUSD:

  1. Los Angeles County must move out of the most restrictive “purple tier” of California’s reopening plan.
  2. Staff required to return to in-person work are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination.
  3. Safety protocols must be in place, including personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, ventilation, and a cleaning regimen.

According to a KNBC News report broadcast on Friday night, “UTLA has said they do not believe the Los Angeles Unified School District will be able to meet all of these needs by a proposed April reopen date, and they are prepared to strike if teachers are forced back.”

UTLA members were presented with a yes-or-no question that read as follows:

“I will refuse to return for a full or hybrid physical reopening of schools until LA County is out of the purple tier, staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination, and safety conditions are in place at our schools including PPE, physical distancing, ventilation, and daily cleaning.”

A YES vote means you agree with the UTLA leadership and will join your union brothers, sisters, and siblings in organizing to resist a forced return to school sites until the three conditions for safety mentioned above have been met.

A NO vote means you are willing to physically return to your school or place of work under unsafe conditions, even if the infection rates are still in the purple tier, without vaccinations, and without all of the safety conditions in place, such as PPE, physical distancing, ventilation, or daily cleaning.

Myart-Cruz said the vote count was conducted by an outside company called Integrity Voting Systems.

“Last March when educators first closed our classrooms and offices, we didn’t know that a year later we would still be physically separated from the students and communities we love,” Myart-Cruz said in a UTLA news release. “It has been a painful and difficult year for everyone. As much as educators long to be back to in-person instruction, it must be done safely for the sake of students, staff, and families. That has been our guiding principal (sic) from Day 1 of this pandemic.”

Critics of the union and some parents advocating for in-person learning to return objected to the ballot question’s wording, which they believe contained loaded language.

“It seems to me that they want zero risks of anything happening,” said Raj Raghavan, an LAUSD parent, in a virtual interview with KNBC. “If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t open the schools at all, ever.”

However, UTLA is allied with several progressive groups and coalitions throughout Southern California that support the union’s demands and joined striking teachers on the picket line during a six-day work stoppage in 2019.

“With this vote, teachers are saying what I am hearing from parents in my community – it’s just not safe to physically return to schools yet,” said Alicia Baltazar, an LAUSD parent representing Reclaim Our Schools, an education reform group allied with UTLA. “I want to thank teachers for taking this stand and for all that you have been doing to educate my child during this pandemic.”

On Monday, Los Angles County began administering coronavirus vaccine doses to educators, including those working in LAUSD. According to the Los Angeles Times, officials warned that a limited supply could slow the pace of injections.

“LA County is making progress toward the necessary conditions for a safe return, but we are not there yet,” UTLA said in Friday’s press release. “Some educators are having difficulty securing vaccination appointments, infection rates are still too high in many of the hard-hit communities we serve, and COVID variants could change the trajectory of the virus.”

City News Service reports, “when Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will reopen for students remains unclear,” and:

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $6.6 billion legislative package Friday that offers incentives for schools to resume in-person instruction for students up to second grade by April 1 and provides funds to help recoup learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly by extending the school year…

The legislation creates a $2 billion incentive pool, with money doled out to schools that reopen campuses for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, as well as high-need students of all ages. The money will go toward safety improvements, such as ventilation systems and protective equipment.

The proposal does not order schools to reopen, but those that fail to do so by April 1 will lose 1% of their share of the funds for [every day] they miss the deadline.

The money will be available to schools in counties that have an average daily new COVID-19 case rate of less than 25 per 100,000 residents, which covers the vast majority of the state, including all of Los Angeles County. …

Under the new legislation, schools in counties that advance out of the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s four-level “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” and into the less-restrictive “red” tier would be required to open all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade to qualify for the incentive funds.

After Newsom had first announced the incentivized reopening plan last weekend, Myart-Cruz said it unfairly put districts that primarily serve students of color at a disadvantage.

“If you condition funding on reopening schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier schools that do not have the transmission rates that low-income black and brown communities do,” she said at a press conference on Monday. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism.”

“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 added.

Myart-Cruz reportedly said wealthy parents were behind the push to reopen L.A. public schools, which drew objections from some parents in the South L.A. region of the city.

According to FOX 11 News investigative reporter Bill Melugin, some black parents in South L.A. were “outraged” by Myart-Cruz’s remarks.

Melugin spoke to Renee Bailey, described as a South L.A. mom, who called Myart-Cruz’s comments “very generalized and almost racist.”

“As a culture, black and brown people don’t want to be generalized,” Bailey said. “We don’t want to be stereotyped and to say reopening schools is structural racism, that’s wrong.”

“It’s almost like minority families want the schools to reopen more than anyone else, and the reason why I say that is education, for us, our culture, is a stairway out of poverty, so every day that our kids aren’t in school, that’s just a day closer to poverty for them,” Ms. Bailey continued.

Melugin posted a flyer on social media promoting a March 13 rally to reopen LAUSD schools that he said was organized by South L.A. parents.

KNBC 4 News reported on Friday night that “Los Angeles is expected to soon move into the red tier… But the sticking point that may push back the reopening of schools: PPE, ventilation, and sanitation. UTLA has said that they do not trust LAUSD to adequately provide these things.”

“Teaching in a pandemic is not easy,” Myart-Cruz said. “Standing up for students and our most marginalized communities is not easy. But our members continue to do both of these things, day in and day out because that’s our job.”

Related: Union Officials Urge Los Angeles Teachers To Support ‘Safety Demands’ To Return To School Sites

Related: Black Lives Matter Member Elected To Lead Los Angeles’ Largest Teachers Union

Related: L.A. Teachers Union Claims California Is ‘Propagating Structural Racism’ By Reopening Schools

Related: Teachers Union Leads Coalition Demanding A ‘Real’ Lockdown In Los Angeles

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