After Deal With Teachers Union, LAUSD Students Can Expect (Some) Live Lessons Every Day

A second-grader uses a computer to participate in an e-learning class on May 1, 2020 in Bartlett, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Across Los Angeles last spring, public school students reported huge variation in how different teachers handled their classes after the coronavirus hit.

After campuses closed, some teachers hustled to recreate their pre-pandemic classrooms through a series of virtual meet-ups and chats. But the L.A. Unified School District did not require live, daily video instruction — meaning other students saw and heard very little of their classmates or teachers after the lockdown.

Now negotiators for the district and United Teachers Los Angeles hammered out a plan designed to ensure more consistency in students' experiences when online classes resume in two weeks.

The tentative agreement, reached over the weekend and announced Monday, establishes a standard daily school schedule — 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. — and requires teachers in most grades to provide at least 90 minutes of live, "synchronous" instruction each day.

Under the deal, the first two days of LAUSD's academic year — Aug. 18 and 19 — will also be set aside for staff training, student orientation, and for ensuring kids have the laptops, internet devices or textbooks they need to begin classes in earnest on Aug. 20.

"Online instruction in the new school year," Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a video update, "will have more structure and standards and increased interaction between teachers and students. Schools will also provide one-on-one support — both in person and online — for students who need it most."


WATCH TODAY'S LAUSD BRIEFING


In a Facebook Live update to teachers union members, UTLA officials said the schedule strengthens the district's "crisis distance learning" program — without accepting a district-proposed 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule that the union contended would "micromanage" teachers' schedules.

"We never wavered from what we thought was the best crisis distance learning program possible," said Arlene Inouye, co-chair of the union's negotiating team, "knowing that we're living in an unprecedented pandemic where flexible schedules and supports absolutely must be provided."

According to a joint statement, the L.A. Unified School Board and UTLA's membership must ratify the agreement before it takes effect. The school board meets Tuesday. UTLA members will vote early next week.

If approved, the deal would expire at the end of December. The deal would also need to be renegotiated if LAUSD decided to reopen campuses, even for limited numbers of students.

HOW DIFFERENT WILL THIS FALL BE?

Many of the broad strokes of Monday's agreement were mandated by a change in state law that requires "daily, live engagement" between students and teachers in all California public schools this fall. The new mandate made LAUSD's prior agreement with UTLA untenable.

California's Senate Bill 98 also requires public school teachers to take attendance each class period — and restores the link between daily attendance and schools' funding.

The stakes of the negotiation were high. Some parents have bemoaned the inconsistency of last spring's program — and have been agitating for more live instruction. LAUSD's own data also shows Latino and Black students were less likely than their white peers to meaningfully participate in online lessons. Similarly, students with disabilities and English learners were also less likely to engage.

One group of four parents — through the advocacy organizations Parent Revolution and Innovate Public Schools — may even file legal action against LAUSD. In a letter to top district officials last week, the parents' lawyer argued LAUSD deprived students of their right to an education under the state Constitution. The letter also asked pointed questions about the forthcoming deal with UTLA.

On Monday, the advocacy organizations issued a statement saying the new deal is an "insufficient improvement over the failed remote learning environment too many families experienced last spring."

WHAT IS MY STUDENT'S NEW SCHEDULE?

California's new state law re-imposes requirements that students receive a minimum number of "instructional minutes." These minimums range from 180 minutes in kindergarten to 240 minutes for 4th through 12th grades.

LAUSD's new arrangement uses these minimums to structure schedules for each grade level:

Every Monday, students in some grade levels will have lighter loads of core coursework, with time set aside for teachers to attend trainings or plan lessons.

From Tuesday through Friday, students will spend more time in "synchronous" lessons. In general, "synchronous" means live lessons with teachers available virtually to offer real-time feedback — but could also mean teacher-guided "peer-to-peer learning."

When students aren't engaging in live lessons, they'll be receiving "asynchronous" instruction — which could mean independent, off-line work or pre-recorded video lessons. Even email communication counts as asynchronous instruction.

In many grade levels, there's time carved out of each day for small group lessons — live or otherwise — to address students' academic or socioemotional needs.

WHAT'S IN THE DEAL I SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?

A few takeaways:

  • Mobilizing an army of substitute teachers. The deal calls for substitutes to be used to pinch-hit in a number of capacities, like leading breakout groups and helping teachers with their own virtual lessons. They could also play pivotal roles in special education, covering for special ed teachers who are attending Individualized Education Plan meetings or assessing a student. UTLA bargaining team member Victoria Casas made a pitch to substitutes to fill out a survey informing administrators of their availability: "Make sure the district knows how much you want to work, because the [subs] who want to work are going to be given work."
  • Administrators may sit in on virtual lessons, but they won't be evaluating tenured teachers. Under the deal, principals must give teachers prior notice that they'd like to observe and get the teacher's permission to record a lesson. But observations for teacher evaluations will be limited to teachers who have yet to receive "permanent" — aka tenured — status.
  • LAUSD cannot require teachers to return to campuses until they reopen for everyone. The district had initially proposed requiring teachers to lead distance learning lessons from their classrooms, but dropped this demand late last week. The deal explicitly makes this voluntary.
  • In special education, students with "similar goals and needs" may meet with psychologists and therapists in groups, "as appropriate." Last spring, many parents said regular physical, occupational, speech or behavior therapy sessions — mandated in their students' IEPs — were slow to resume, even long after general education classes had started up again.

THE DISTRICT'S OWN PLANS

On Monday, Beutner also unveiled district officials' broader plans for handling distance learning — and for how the district may operate if and when coronavirus numbers take a turn in a positive direction.

Even during distance learning mode, Beutner also said tutoring from LAUSD staff will be available by appointment, either on-campus or online, to "students who need it the most." Saturday school options will also be offered.

In classes, the district's "Back to School" plan also calls for formal assessments of students to resume — which will likely give teachers, at least at the classroom level, a portrait of how much "learning loss" has occurred since campuses closed on March 13.

When the school year begins, LAUSD will offer supervised care for the children of district employees at their school site from Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In his video address, Beutner said the state's guidelines on essential workers allow the district to provide this support.

If public health conditions allow the district to reopen campuses to students, Beutner previewed plans to attempt to offer on-campus child care — with LAUSD staff supervision — to any students who aren't in classes.

But in his video address Monday, Beutner repeated one of his longstanding refrains: the public health conditions do not yet allow for reopening campuses. He said district officials will be watching both case counts and the rate at which COVID-19 tests come back positive in L.A. County.

For now, he said, "the threat from the virus is currently too great."