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LAUSD Abandons Plan To Extend The Upcoming School Year

Brainard Avenue Elementary School principal Victor Yzaguirre (right) shares a lighthearted moment with a preschooler during recess time on April 13 —the campus' first day hosting students since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brainard Avenue Elementary School principal Victor Yzaguirre talks to a preschooler during recess on the first day back on campus.
(Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)
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Facing tepid parent support and firm opposition from teachers and principals, Los Angeles Unified School District leaders have abandoned a plan to lengthen the upcoming school year.

In a memo posted Monday, LAUSD officials said they will withdraw their proposal — which would’ve added six instructional days to the normal 180-day calendar — despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s encouragement that schools extend their school year as a means of helping at-risk students make up for classroom time lost to the pandemic.

Instead, LAUSD board members on Tuesday voted, 7-0, to carry forward the major features of the current calendar into the 2021-22 school year: a mid-August start date (Aug. 16), a mid-June conclusion (June 10), and a three-week winter break in-between.

“After a year filled with tremendous loss, the decision not to add additional days to next school year will give LAUSD families additional time to heal and adapt to a world slowly regrouping from the pandemic,” wrote Jenna Schwartz, co-founder of Parents Supporting Teachers, a Facebook discussion board-turned-advocacy group that rallied parents against the extended calendar plan.

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LAUSD staff framed the decision as a tactical retreat. An extension of the calendar would've triggered negotiations with both the school principals union and United Teachers Los Angeles. Surveys showed both of these labor groups staunchly opposed lengthening the upcoming year.

"Right now, [school staff] are exhausted," LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner acknowledged.

But in a prepared statement read during the meeting, Beutner also continued to advance an argument that extending the school year is the right thing to do — and staff said they would advocate for lengthening the 2022-23 school year.

"We will make sure each student has as much instructional and mental health support as possible while they are at school," Beutner said. "But those extra supports are not a substitute for more time in school."

The Backstory

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Since at least April 2020, Newsom has publicly voiced his support for longer school years — and shorter holiday breaks — to help combat "learning loss" during the pandemic.

In March, California lawmakers approved $6.6 billion in coronavirus aid to help K-12 schools reopen — and gave schools the option to use this money to pay for, among other things, an extended school year.

That was the call Beutner was answering in mid-April when he laid out his preliminary plan to start the fall semester on Aug. 10 — a week earlier than usual — and cut winter break short to two weeks instead of three, bringing students back on Jan. 3.

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Research suggests a longer school year is a “promising” intervention to help students advance, particularly for the students who are at greatest risk of falling behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But parent support for a modified calendar was soft from the beginning. Though an LAUSD survey showed that a majority of parents favored some sort of calendar extension, this support was split between Beutner’s extended-year plan and a second option (to start Aug. 3, and keep a lengthy winter break). A plurality of surveyed parents (44%) opposed any changes to the 2021-22 calendar.

Fierce lobbying from groups like Parents Supporting Teachers made it difficult for district officials and board members to ignore these survey numbers.

"If I'd had my druthers, we would’ve added the 10 instructional days," board member Jackie Goldberg said on Tuesday. "However, I have to say, [an] overwhelming number of people … told me, 'We're so bloody tired we just can't face it.'"

"Ours is an organization of people," said board president Kelly Gonez. "Our work can only be done through our school staff, and right now, we're understandably hearing from many of them that they're exhausted."

I just want to make it clear not all of our families have the option to travel or take vacation or go to summer camp. Our campuses have working air conditioning systems while many homes don’t.
— Kelly Gonez, L.A. Unified school board president

At-Risk Students And Exhausted Teachers

By the end of April, LAUSD officials began shopping a compromise plan to extend the school year for students by only six days, with staff reporting to campuses for four additional days of training without students.

But subsequent surveys found even greater majorities of both UTLA and the principals union, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, opposed any change to the calendar.

"UTLA leadership were asked," Beutner said in his statement, "to consider all of the different ways to do this with full pay, including pension benefits, for any additional work — extending the school year or school day, regular Saturday school or shortening the long Thanksgiving or January breaks. They would not agree to any of these."

“It’s frustrating the way this has happened," said board member Nick Melvoin, who said district officials could've communicated with both parents and labor unions more clearly — and earlier — about their intentions.

At Tuesday's board meeting, "I heard at least five board members that want additional days," Melvoin said, " … and yet I think there’s an acknowledgment that because of how this was done, we’re going to end up with no additional days.”

A transitional kindergartener at Harding Elementary in Sylmar plays with blocks as Kelly Gonez, president of the L.A. Unified school board, looks on. The student has been given her own set of toys; shared toys, materials and supplies are not allowed in L.A. Unified School District classrooms under reopening guidelines for hybrid instruction.
A transitional kindergartener at Harding Elementary in Sylmar plays with blocks as Kelly Gonez, president of the L.A. Unified school board, looks on. The student has been given her own set of toys; shared toys, materials and supplies are not allowed in L.A. Unified School District classrooms under reopening guidelines for hybrid instruction.
(Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)

SEIU Local 99 — the union that represents an assortment of non-teaching employees, including special education assistants — also expressed disappointment in the decision to drop the calendar extension.

"As essential workers who have been on the frontlines throughout this pandemic," read a statement from Max Arias, SEIU Local 99's executive director, "we have seen the toll this crisis has taken on our most vulnerable students and communities, particularly special needs students who struggled with distance learning."

Gonez acknowledged these concerns, saying the district would have to be creative to give students extra opportunities to make up lost ground within the confines of a shorter calendar. Gonez referenced parents' arguments that a shorter summer break would make it difficult to schedule vacations or summer camps.

"While I’ll support the option here today," Gonez said, "I just want to make it clear not all of our families have the option to travel or take vacation or go to summer camp. Our campuses have working air conditioning systems while many homes don’t. Many of our students rely on our schools for their mental health services and enrichment programs and to meet our basic needs."

This Idea Won't Be Going Away

Instead of district-wide changes, LAUSD officials now say they’ll give individual schools the choice to pursue a longer 2021-22 school year if they so choose — and will distribute an estimated $200 million needed to pay for calendar extensions using a need-based funding formula.

This need-based formula “will be identified and implemented in time for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year,” and would not shortchange funding for other programs, district officials promised in a memo.

Extending the school year would not necessarily mean extra days for students in classrooms. LAUSD Chief Academic Officer Alison Yoshimoto-Towery said the district could consider adding teacher-only training days to its calendar. On Tuesday, board members discussed — but did not decide — how to allow schools to pay for this training, or whether to make any future trainings optional.

"The district’s position still is," Yoshimoto-Towery said, "that extending the academic year will provide additional opportunities for teachers to learn how to accelerate instruction, so we don’t protect the achievement gap."

Yoshimoto-Towery said LAUSD staff want to approve 2022-23 calendar soon — and want to convince teachers and principals to agree to lengthen that year.

Several board members expressed openness to lengthening the year after next, including Goldberg.

"That's when the ten extra days," she said, "will probably do the most good anyway."

Updated May 4, 2021 at 6:00 PM PDT
Updated with quotes and the vote tally from Tuesday's LAUSD board meeting.