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Alhambra Teachers Say They Need Vaccines To Safely Return To The Classroom

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Tammy Scorcia, president of the Alhambra Teachers Association and Alhambra Unified Board of Education president Ken Tang. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)
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Governor Gavin Newsom said last week that California schools can begin to reopen even if all teachers are not vaccinated for COVID-19. The head of the CDC and the Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics delivered a similar message.

Local educators are pushing back on the idea, arguing the state has not yet done enough to prioritize the health and safety of teachers and students.

"We want our kids back in school," said Tammy Scorcia, president of the Alhambra Teachers Association, the union that represents teachers in Alhambra, Monterey Park and parts of San Gabriel and Rosemead. "But we also want to make sure that our teachers are vaccinated."

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She argued the governor's comments were "irresponsible" and didn't take into account the realities of classroom learning with young students. The district has 19 schools, from K-8 through high school.

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Tammy Scorcia, president of the Alhambra Teachers Association, at a food distribution event on Feb. 6, 2021. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)

"The kids are there and you're supposed to social distance," Scorcia said. "But if a kid has a problem, [teachers] are not going to think about how to take care of that child, they're just going to do it."

Scorcia spoke at a Saturday morning drive-up food distribution event where the union, the president of the Alhambra Unified school board and city council members handed out groceries to needy families. The district says it has given out roughly two million meals since March 2020, with free grab & go bags including breakfast, lunch and supper for kids 18 and under.

On top of conducting online classes every day, teachers and district staff have volunteered their time to deliver food to students and their families during the pandemic, said Alhambra Unified Board of Education president Ken Tang, who is also an elementary school teacher.

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Immigrants living in the United States without documentation are not eligible for CalFresh or federal food stamps so, "We are filling that gap," Tang said.

COVID-19 is deepening the inequalities between wealthy schools and districts such as Alhambra Unified, where more than two-thirds of the close to 17,000 students in the district are considered "socioeconomically disadvantaged," according to the California Department of Education, and almost a quarter are English language learners.

"Last year, a third grade student said to me, 'Mr. Tang, I'm sorry, but I can't do the work because I'm helping my mom sew masks so we can pay rent,'" Tang recalled.

When it comes to reopening, community spread is major a concern in districts with more crowded housing, he added, citing a Princeton University study that found children and young adults may be transmitting the virus to a greater degree than previously believed.

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Alhambra Unified Board of Education president Ken Tang helps city councilmember Adele Andrade-Stadler load formula and diapers into a car during a food distribution event organized by the Alhambra Teachers Association on Feb. 6, 2021. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)
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"Many of our kids don't just live with their parents," he said. "Some live with their grandparents, or multiple families. Those are the types of challenges that no one's really thought about."

The head of United Teachers Los Angeles has also called for vaccinating all LAUSD teachers as a prerequisite to reopening schools.

On Monday morning, L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner laid out a road map to reopen Los Angeles classrooms that includes vaccinating 25,000 LAUSD teachers and staff, and hitting benchmarks for a declining number of cases in the county.