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At Activists’ Urging, LAUSD Board Postpones Talk Of School Police Cuts Again

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Protestors rallied in front of LAUSD's headquarters during a protest last summer calling on the board to defund the LA School Police. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Last summer, following nationwide protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education agreed to cut its school police department’s budget by $25 million. The details —such as how to make those cuts, and where to redirect the money — were to be figured out soon thereafter.

Now, six months later, the proposal is still in limbo. A discussion on a drafted policy was scheduled for December, but Superintendent Austin Beutner postponed the item to allow more time for feedback from the school community. It was supposed to be taken up again at tomorrow’s board meeting — but a revised agenda posted online says the item on School Police Budget Reduction and Reinvestment is “to be withdrawn.”

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., has advocated for the cuts and guided student activists throughout the planning process. She says they pushed for the district to take the proposal off the agenda.

“It wasn’t going forward in an authentic way,” Abdullah said.

Black Lives Matter-L.A. and a student-led advocacy group, Students Deserve, want more buy-in from students, parents and educators. They’re also calling for money saved in the proposed 35% cut to the school police budget to be spent on support staff at schools with large Black student populations.

“Campuses are not open, yet we’re spending tens of millions of dollars to basically do nothing — to guard empty buildings,” Abdullah said.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to remove school police altogether.

Sarah Djato, a senior at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and a leader with Students Deserve, has worked on the campaign for much of high school. She shares Abdullah’s concerns and demands, and wants to see the cuts and reinvestment in Black students finalized soon.

“It’s something I do want to see before I graduate,” Djato said. “So if that timeline could be implemented, that would be the best thing.”

At this point, it’s unclear when the issue will be back before the board, but advocates are hoping to have the new proposal ready in a matter of weeks.

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Dodger Stadium To Stop COVID-19 Tests And Become A Mass Vaccination Site

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An aerial view shows a long line of cars July 15, 2020 at a COVID-19 testing site at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Robyn Beck/ Getty Images)

Dodger Stadium will begin the transition from coronavirus tests to vaccinations this week. City officials say when the site is up and running, staff will vaccinate up to 12,000 people a day.

We’re still in the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan, so for now appointments are open to health workers only.

First in line (phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan) have been those working most closely with coronavirus patients in hospitals, along with EMTs and paramedics. Today the county said all health care workers can get immunized, from dentists to lab technicians.

“Close to 800,000 health care workers in L.A. County are within phase 1A,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

The county plans to open five more large vaccination sites in the coming weeks, she said. “We recognize that we really need to accelerate our pace of being able to get everyone in phase 1A vaccinated by the end of January.”

Health officials say they'll try to add COVID-19 tests to other sites to make up for what’s being lost at Dodger Stadium and a Veterans Administration site that’s closing down.

Meanwhile, the post-Christmas surge continues. Ferrer said on average, an Angeleno is now dying of the virus every eight minutes.

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University Of California Announces Return To In Person In Fall

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UCLA is part of the 10-campus UC system. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

The University of California announced on Monday that it will return to in-person instruction on all 10 of its campuses in the fall 2021 semester.

“Current forecasts give us hope that in the fall our students can enjoy a more normal on-campus experience,” said UC President Michael V. Drake in a written statement.

Drake, a physician who was appointed UC president last summer, made the decision after consulting with the chancellors of the 10 campuses.

His announcement didn’t include any re-opening details, such as safety measures and protocols and class offerings. That’ll be worked out by administrators, employees, and students at each of the campuses.

“We've been trying to get back to in-person sooner rather than later,” said Jeff Barrett, chair of the faculty senate at UC Irvine. He’s been part of reopening discussions on his campus.

He said it’s tough to predict what the pandemic will look like in the fall and what proportion of the population will have received one of the coronavirus vaccines by then, which makes a return to campus far from risk-free.

“We need to take care of our students who are at risk and also our faculty who are at risk," he said. "Many of the faculty who teach at the University of California are older, and consequently they are better targets for the virus.”

A UC Irvine spokeswoman said the campus will not require vaccinations to return to campus.

One adaptation being considered at UC Irvine, Barrett said, is to create “dual mode” courses in which most of the class meets in person, with an online component for students who decide not to attend in person. But that’s time-consuming for faculty.

The UC Student Association wants reopening plans to include input from vulnerable student populations.

“Are they going to consider unique situations of disabled students who wouldn't be able to return to a full in person presentation of the UC,” said UC San Diego psychology major Syreeta Nolan, who focuses on advocating for disabled students in her role as the student association’s officer for underrepresented students.

But Nolan and other students say the reopening announcement is welcome news.

“I miss the campus culture,” said UCLA senior and UC Student Association President Aidan Arasasingham, “walking down Bruin walk, seeing hundreds of people, that excitement, that energy of running into people.”

The announcement is bittersweet, Arasasingham says, because he’s graduating this spring.

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Surge Is So Bad, LA Public Health Officials Recommend Some Residents Wear Masks At Home

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(Courtesy LA County Dept. Of Public Health)

Every minute in Los Angeles County, about 10 people test positive for coronavirus; and every eight minutes, someone dies from the virus.

Those calculations are adding up to what health officials are calling the county's "worst disaster in decades." And with more than 12,000 new cases reported Monday, L.A. County is quickly approaching 1 million cumulative cases since the first positive coronavirus case was confirmed nearly a year ago on Jan. 26.

The rate of spread has become so rampant that county public health director Barbara Ferrer says officials are now recommending that anyone who lives with someone who may be vulnerable to COVID-19 should wear a face covering at home:

"If you're a worker who's leaving every day, or [if] you're somebody who has to run the essential errands in your family, it will just add a layer of protection while we get through this surge."

Ferrer explained why increased vigilance was needed.

"We've always known that it's much easier to transmit this virus indoors than it is outdoors, particularly when people are in close contact," she said, "and while many families have figured out ways to protect older people and people who have underlying health conditions — there's so much transmission right now. And we strongly recommend you also keep that face covering on."

That recommendation was startling because previous advice had been: "Everyone is asked to wear a face covering when they are interacting with others who are not members of their household in public and private spaces."

Officials on Monday also reported an additional 137 deaths, putting the cumulative death toll at over 12,000.

More than 1,500 people have died from COVID-19 complications in the past week alone, and the average number of daily deaths has skyrocketed more than 1,100% since the surge began in November.

OVERALL LOOK AT LA COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Tuesday, Jan. 12.

This story was updated Jan. 13 with additional details about the county's new recommendation and updates charts.

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Answering Your Questions Is My New Job

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Carla Javier, LAist's new (and first!) community engagement reporter. (Quincy Surasmith/LAist)

Here at LAist, my colleagues and I have received more than 4,700 questions from you about COVID-19 (not to mention the ones we’ve gotten about voting, racism, and unemployment benefits).

And now it is officially my job to help answer those questions with reporting and stories. As LAist’s new community engagement reporter:

  • I want to know what you want to know about. Or tell me your concerns. Or share something amazing that’s happening in your world so I can help shine a light on it. (After all, we could all use some good news these days). No question or tip is too small, too big, or too seemingly obvious.

  • I can help by seeking out the hard-to-find answers. I will take your questions and concerns to officials and experts. I will put their answers into context. I will listen to you and aim to share feelings and life experiences not commonly reflected in the news.

  • I will read, look and listen to everything you send me, and apply it. I won’t have all the answers immediately, and may not be able to respond directly to everyone, but your messages will inform my understanding as I investigate, report, keep our leaders accountable, and ask my own tough questions of others.

If you have a question or notice something you think I should be looking into, email me at cjavier@scpr.org, DM me on Twitter @carlamjavier, or fill out this form.

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READ THE FULL STORY:

Pell Grants For Incarcerated Students Are Coming Soon. But Will Quality Education Follow?

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“When I got into college, that opened my mind to something completely different,” said Daniel Whitlow, an incarcerated student at California State Prison Los Angeles County in Lancaster. (J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Incarcerated Californians will soon be able to apply for federal Pell Grants to pay for higher education. The change had support across the political spectrum. But even advocates have concerns.

"It has all the ingredients for students to be taken advantage of," said Rebecca Silbert, director of Rising Scholars, a network of California community colleges that provide prison education programs.

Still, Silbert hopes Pell Grants will provide desperately needed funding for incarcerated students who want to earn a bachelor's degree, and entice more schools to offer degree programs in prison.

Currently, most higher education programs in California prisons don't offer more than an associate degree. Until recently, Cal State LA was the only public institution to offer a bachelor's degree program in California prisons. Now, UC Irvine and Cal State Sacramento are launching programs, as well as Pitzer College, which is private.

Studies have shown that prison education programs reduce recidivism and increase job opportunities upon release.

But educators worry that the promise of funding could attract bad actors. They're hoping to work with state leaders and corrections officials to insure that programs offer quality education that leads to a degree.

READ THE FULL STORY:

READ MORE ABOUT CAL STATE LA'S PRISON B.A. PROGRAM:

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Hospitalizations Plateau In CA But It's Too Early To Tell If The Surge Is Declining

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On Monday, January 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his latest update on California's response to the coronavirus. You can see his full remarks in the livestream above.

TOO SOON TO TELL IF HOSPITALIZATIONS ARE DECREASING

Gov. Newsom pointed out today that we're seeing a 6% increase in the total number of hospitalizations over the last 14 days, which is an improvement in the state's curve.

"That's among the smallest increases we've seen over a two week period in some time," Newsom said.

The rate of increase is also lower in the state's ICUs.

The governor cautioned, however, that it's too soon to say whether or not this is an actual sign of the surge going down.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California Health and Human Services, explained that officials expected that, "If people made some different decisions in the last half of December, we would begin to see some flattening of those hospital numbers first."

"That said, we are still concerned that over the last week, we've seen some high case numbers and those will end up in our hospitals, you know, five to 10 days from now. So I don't want to think that we're out of the woods in any measure," Ghaly said.

He added that his team is still grateful for the "slight flattening" they're starting to see, which might give the healthcare system a little breathing room.

You can see the slight dip in hospitalizations in the governor's slide above. (Screenshot from today's media briefing).

HOSPITAL STAFFING

The Governor says the state's emphasis now is on hospital staffing, particuarly contract staff.

"We continue to work with the Federal Government Department of Defense and others to request additional resources... that's a top priority," Newsom said.

More than 1,878 state and federal staffmembers are now deployed across the state of California, mostly in Southern California where numbers are highest. Within the next week, the Governor says he expects about 1,000 contract staff to hit the ground, including registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses and respiratory specialists. He said the state is currently in the process of figuring out exactly where they'll go. Those healthcare workers will supplement the 2,000 who have already been deployed.

VACCINE UPDATE

California has received just under 2.4 milion doses of the vaccine, Newsom said, with the goal of vaccinating 1 million Californians in 10 days and are taking an "all hands on deck approach."

To accomplish this, Newsom said, the state has loosened some of the tiers and expanded the pool of those who can administer the vaccines.That includes nursing students, dentists and pharmacists, among others.

"We now have 15 National Guard strike teams all up and down the state," he said. "And they're out there working with the Office of Emergency Services working with clinics and health providers directly."

Newsom added that the state will be opening up larger sites for vaccine distribution, like Dodger's Stadium:

"We recognize that the current strategy is not going to get us to where we need to go as quickly as we all need it to go, and so that's why we're speeding up the administration, not just for priority groups, but also now opening up large sites,meeting Dodger Stadium Padre Stadium, Cal Expo these large mass vaccination sites, you start to see those coming up as early as this week. You'll see many, many more... so this is encouraging."

Newsom added that he expects $350 million in stimulus support for vaccine distribution.

The state has also launched a new PSA campaign in English and Spanish to raise awareness about it, focusing on the fact that the vaccine is free for everyone, but that the public should still wear masks and socially distance after receving it.

GORILLAS

Members of the Gorilla Troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. On Wednesday, January 6, two of the gorillas began coughing. Given current circumstances, San Diego Zoo Global initiated the process of testing fecal samples from the gorillas for SARS-CoV-2 through the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CA HFS). The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed the positive results on Monday, January 11. (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global)

Yes, you read that correctly. Two gorillas have tested positive for COVID-19, and a third gorilla is symptomatic.

"We're currently confirming the source of the infection and the strain," Newsom said. "It's an area that's long been of concern, human to animal transmission, but our beloved gorillas, obviously, we are concerned about."

The Governor said we are likely to see more information about this in the next few hours. He also mentioned that his four children found this slide in his presentation particularly amusing.

Update: According to a press release from the zoo: “Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well.”

OVERALL LOOK AT CALIFORNIA'S NUMBERS:

Here's a look at long-term trends in the state. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose California or any county in the state that interests you. These numbers are current as of Jan. 10:

(LAist)

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Beutner to Newsom: Don't Use Prop 98 Funds For COVID Testing In Schools

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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner delivered his weekly video on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (Screenshot from LAUSD video)

In his weekly video address, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner reiterated his concerns over Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan for reopening schools.

His remarks detailed objections sent to Newsom last week in a letter signed by the superintendents of seven of the state's largest school districts, including L.A. and Long Beach Unified.

Among the objections: the state’s proposal to spend Proposition 98 money allocated for instructional improvement on COVID-19 testing in schools. Beutner says that’s not what the funding is meant for.

"Every dollar of Prop 98 funds spent on public health costs is a dollar which won’t be available to be spent on students in a classroom."

The superintendents of the seven districts that signed on to the letter Newsom's plan unfairly disadvantages students in areas where the coronavirus case rate remains high.

"The Governor’s plan does not address the disproportionate impact the virus is having on low-income communities of color," Beutner said. "It leaves the definition of a 'safe school environment' and the 'standard for reopening classrooms' up to the individual discretion of 1,037 school districts across the state, creating a patchwork of safety standards in the face of a statewide health crisis. And it reverses a statewide commitment to equity-based funding of schools."

Watch his full address:

RELATED:

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Here’s How Lawmakers Are Bringing Broadband Relief For College Students

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LA Trade Tech College student Rugmini Vasquez receives technology during the pandemic from the college's tech support program. (Courtesy LA Trade Tech College)

The digital divide that has widened during the pandemic has been more than a stumbling block for many college students trying to adjust to online learning — it’s been a closed gate.

But there could be at least some relief in sight from the federal government. The coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump at the end of the year includes a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund that will help low-income families with a $50 monthly reimbursement for internet services. College students who receive federal Pell Grant aid are also eligible.

“The lack of access to devices and internet is threatening college students' education,” said Manny Rodriguez, senior legislative associate with The Education Trust-West. “We need to craft solutions with low-income students, students of color at the center because they're the ones that are being impacted the hardest during this time.”

Education Trust-West laid out the digital divide’s impact on college students in stark numbers in an October report:

  • More than 1 in 10 California college students don’t have access to the internet
  • Roughly the same proportion don’t have a device to be able to engage in distance learning

In a November letter, 20 advocacy groups urged the California Broadband Council to offer college students broadband relief by improving marketing and visibility of low cost and free broadband programs. The groups also recommended removing data limits on those programs so that households can more easily accommodate multiple devices.

An action plan released by the council last month underlined what many people have found during the pandemic: reliable internet access is essential for modern life.

“Californians’ ability to access and use broadband became the difference between being able to fully engage in life, and being cut off,” the plan said.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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Morning Brief: The Harassment Continues

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A Trump flag is shown flying over the Long Beach Public Safety Building last year. (Ian Thomas Malone/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

After enduring Wednesday’s violent attack in Washington. D.C., some Southern California members of Congress were harassed on their flights home.

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, whose district bridges Orange and L.A. counties, said that her fellow passengers also called the siege of the Capitol “patriotic,” and were “gleeful” about it for the duration of the flight.

"I had to bite my tongue,” she said.

Sanchez said that she’d been concerned on her way in to work on Wednesday morning, noting the distinct lack of police presence despite the fact that pro-Trump extremists had been planning their actions in the open.

“Intelligence had warned that there was a problem, that things could get violent, and that information was not passed along to Capitol Police because the Department of Defense has been politicized,” she said. “That was an epic, epic failure.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.


What You Need To Know Today

SoCal’s Surge: L.A. County health officials on Sunday confirmed 14,482 new cases of coronavirus and 166 deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 920,177 and total deaths to 12,250. A team of approximately 20 federal military medical personnel are providing support treating COVID-19 patients in Riverside County.

The Vaccine: Some frontline healthcare workers and first responders are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, so the LAFD Foundation is now offering them cash prizes.

The Capitol Siege: Some of Southern California’s Democratic members of Congress experienced harassment from Trump supporters on their return trip from the nation’s capital. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a seven-minute video on Twitter comparing the Proud Boys and others in Wednesday’s violent mob to the Nazis during Kristallnacht.

Testing, Testing: L.A. County will stop using Curative’s COVID-19 test at some sites after the FDA said the test poses a “risk of false results, particularly false negative results.”

California Kids: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal calls for a $500 million investment toward the long-term goal of universal preschool, but promises little immediate relief for providers struggling to operate during the pandemic.

The Bees’ Knees: Researchers at UC Riverside are launching a multi-campus project to save the declining honey bee population.


Before You Go… A Mural For Local Heroes

The new mural of local civil rights leaders outside the ACLU of Southern California's downtown L.A. office. (Courtesy of Elon Schoenholz)

A new 5,500 square-foot mural is going up in Westlake, on the front of the ACLU’s headquarters.

The piece, designed by ACLU artist-in-residence Audrey Chan, honors local civil rights activists, including Melina Abdullah, Hector Barajas and Upton Sinclair.

"It's really rooted in stories based in Southern California of fighting for racial justice, holding systems of policing and incarceration accountable, people who are defending the rights of immigrants and LGBTQ communities and students rights," said Chan.


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