The nation’s second-largest school district will keep the doors of its over 1,000 schools closed after the United Teachers of Los Angeles voted not to return to in-person learning until they decide it is safe to do so, complaining of “structural racism” in the reopening plan.
The union announced in a Friday statement that its “members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites” with a 91% majority, effectively blocking the return of LA’s 600,000 students to in-person learning.
Among their criteria for safety, the union demanded not to return to in-person learning until Los Angeles County is out of the “purple tier” of California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” According to that system, purple tier regions are areas that have “widespread” COVID-19 infections. In order to get out of the purple tier, a county needs to have fewer than seven coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and less than 8% of positive COVID-19 tests. However, the majority of the entire state has been in the purple tier for months.
The union also expressed refusal to open schools until “staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination.” This month, California began offering coronavirus shots for individuals who are age 65 and older, those who work in agriculture, food, emergency services, childcare, and education.
“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.
The vote comes after both chambers of California’s Legislature nearly unanimously passed a bill to reopen schools. While the bill does not expressly require schools to reopen, it does hold back approximately $2 billion in grant money until districts return for at least part-time in-person learning by March 31. According to the Daily Wire, schools will lose 1% of the funds for every day after April 1 that there is not in-person education.
The union responded to the plan, calling it “a recipe for propagating structural racism.”
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income black and brown communities do,” Myart-Cruz said, according to ABC7. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”
“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,” the UTLA president added. “If this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response. We would not have the high rate of infections and deaths. Now educators are asked instead to sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students, and the safety of our schools.”
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