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LA Nears Threshold To Reopen Schools But LAUSD Teachers Union Says It's Too Soon

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The L.A. County Health Department says that local elementary schools could be eligible to reopen in-person instruction within a matter of weeks. Teacher groups say that timeline isn’t feasible.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of United Teachers L.A., the teacher’s union for L.A. Unified, says as long as the county is in the purple tier, the state’s highest-risk category, students should not be on campus.

“We want to be back in schools with our babies,” Myart-Cruz said. “At this present time, it’s just not safe. Infection rates are high.”

The county’s prediction is based on a threshold for reopening schools in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Safe Schools For All proposal. Under that plan, districts are encouraged to bring younger students back to campus if COVID-19 rates drop to 25 positive cases or lower per 100,000 county residents. Currently, L.A. County is recording a daily rate of 48.2 new positive cases per 100,000 residents.

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On Wednesday, Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the L.A. City Council that threshold could be reached in two to three weeks.

“People are playing by the rules and the holidays are over,” Ferrer said. “It will not be long...if we stay on the course we’re on.”

Regardless, Myart-Cruz says LAUSD district won’t have the infrastructure set up in time to protect teachers, students and their families. Vaccinations have rolled out slowly in the county, she says, and teachers haven’t been prioritized.

“There’s a lot of pieces in this puzzle,” Myart-Cruz said. “We’re not going to accept the blame for why we aren’t in [school] buildings right now. Lawmakers, elected officials are the ones the fingers should be pointing at.”

Meanwhile, UTLA is still in the midst of bargaining with LAUSD over a reopening safety plan for specialized small-group instruction. Once that’s finished, the union and district hope to release a general reopening plan.

The California Teachers Association shares largely the same concerns as UTLA. President E. Toby Boyd says it might hypothetically be feasible to reopen elementary schools for small-group instruction, but only once testing, contact tracing, cleaning, ventilation and distancing protocols are in place.

“There have to be multi-layered safety measures,” Boyd said. “Most of the schools have not been able to do all the things that are required.”

If LAUSD does open campuses, the district could be eligible to receive millions of dollars from the state. Superintendent Austin Beutner will apply for that funding by submitting a draft reopening plan, but it’s unclear if it will be approved without the union’s sign-off.

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