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LA Council Member Wants City To Sue LAUSD To Reopen Campuses

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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A Los Angeles city council member wants to sue the L.A. Unified School District to force administrators to reopen in-person classes.

Councilmember Joe Buscaino said on Thursday that he’ll introduce a motion at next Tuesday’s city council meeting that would direct L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer to file a lawsuit against the district.

“How is it that my neighbor can take their kids to the parochial school in San Pedro and I can’t take my kids to a public school in San Pedro?” Buscaino said. “Something’s not right here.”

LAUSD and Feuer’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez slapped back at Buscaino in a Twitter thread. She wrote:

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"Our City and County leaders could have prioritized schools and children by keeping businesses closed, but instead chose to keep malls, gyms, and cardrooms open. Weren’t you also the one advocating to keep outdoor dining in the midst of the COVID surge?"

Buscaino’s call to take LAUSD to court follows Wednesday’s news that the San Francisco City Council sued its own school district to reopen campuses, citing a new state law that requires districts to offer classroom instruction“ whenever possible” during the 2020-21 school year.

“I’m hopeful to take a page out of San Francisco’s playbook,” Buscaino said.

He points to statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Southern California Chapter 2 of the American Academy of Pediatrics calling on schools to reopen as soon as possible.

Buscaino hasn’t consulted with L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer yet, but at a recent city council meeting, Ferrer predicted that the falling coronavirus case rate could be low enough for schools to be eligible to open in a matter of weeks.

But even as COVID-19 cases have fallen, and despite encouragement from Gov. Gavin Newsom, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner has said he doesn’t feel comfortable reopening campuses in the near term.

“For the first time in almost a year, it looks like things are headed in a better direction,” Beutner said in his weekly address on Monday. “But COVID isn’t going away any time soon and there’s a lot that has to happen to get schools reopened.”

For starters, the district is still bargaining with United Teachers Los Angeles over specialized small group classes and a general reopening safety plan. Vaccinations for teachers and worries about case rates that have kept the county in the purple tier have emerged as sticking points between the district and the union.

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Buscaino says all that negotiating has taken too long.

“We just got to recognize and put our students first — get the adults out of the room. Our kids are suffering today,” he said.

While the San Francisco lawsuit may have served as inspiration, the COVID-19 situation in the Bay Area is different from the one in Los Angeles. As of this week, the adjusted case rate for COVID-19 in San Francisco County was 12.5 per 100,000 people, while the rate in Los Angeles was more than double that. Both counties are in the purple tier, but San Francisco is under the state’s threshold for reopening classes.


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