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Parent Group Sues LAUSD, Hoping For Fuller Classrooms And No Mandatory COVID Tests

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A group of Los Angeles Unified School District parents has sued the district, hoping to force the school system’s leaders to bring more students back to campuses full-time “at the earliest practicable time.”

The plaintiffs, under the banner of a group called “California Students United,” have also asked a judge to strike down LAUSD’s requirement that all students take weekly COVID-19 tests, or risk being barred from entering campus.

Naming both the school district and Superintendent Austin Beutner as defendants, the lawsuit also criticizes United Teachers Los Angeles, saying the teachers' union pushed LAUSD to adopt an overly-cautious plan for reopening campuses.

“By conceding to UTLA’s demands,” the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint, “adopting its mandates, and preventing LAUSD’s schools from reopening for in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible, (Beutner and the district) … have denied Plaintiffs their fundamental right on behalf of their school-aged children to an education.”

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LAUSD officials currently plan to reopen a relatively small number of elementary campuses next week, with most early education facilities and elementaries reopening the week of April 19. Middle- and high schools will begin reopening the week of April 26.

But at all levels, schools will welcome back students in smaller groups for part-time “hybrid” instruction — largely, California Students United argues, because LAUSD’s reopening agreement with UTLA hinges on the rule that students and staff must all remain six feet apart at all times.

Ten days after LAUSD and UTLA finished negotiations on the agreement, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said that three feet of distancing is enough under certain conditions. State and L.A. County public health officials have also relaxed their guidelines for schools — but under the LAUSD-UTLA agreement, the six-foot rule still stands.

“That’s preventing kids from having a full day at school,” said Danna Rosenthal, a parent leader with California Students United, who said UTLA has selectively ignored science that didn’t comport with its policy goals.

Rosenthal said that schools closed in 2020 when health professionals raised an alarm. But, she said in an interview, when “those health professionals…all tell the schools to reopen, that it’s safe, why are– especially UTLA, why are they not listening to the same science? Somehow it now seems like that science is not good enough.”

It’s not clear how many LAUSD parents would embrace a wider reopening. District-wide, most parents are opting for their students to remain fully virtual after campuses reopen.

Part of this might be because of LAUSD’s reopening plans for middle- and high schools, where students will essentially continue to take courses online, just from inside a classroom.

In LAUSD neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19, survey responses show parents are especially hesitant to send their children back to campuses. That said, even in more affluent neighborhoods like Woodland Hills and Venice, parents appear divided over in-person schooling.

“The entire country has suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote the founders of Parents Supporting Teachers, an advocacy group allied with UTLA, in a statement. “To try to singularly place blame on either a school district or a labor union, is both an improper indication of privilege and a complete dismissal of the trauma that communities of color have endured over the past year and continue to endure.”

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