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LAUSD Plans To Apply For State Funding To Reopen Schools To Show ‘Good Faith’

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A sign at Thomas Starr King Middle School, an L.A. Unified campus in Silver Lake, flashes public health messages during the COVID-19 crisis on April 1, 2020. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)
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Despite a litany of objections to a state plan for reopening schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District will submit a safety proposal in time to meet a Feb. 1 application deadline to receive millions in state grant money, the district announced in a statement today.

If the district were to miss the Feb. 1 deadline, LAUSD would miss out on $70 million in grant money from the state. The district could stand to lose another $205 million if a plan still isn’t submitted by March 1.

“We intend to send a draft application to Sacramento as a good-faith effort to demonstrate our commitment to reopen schools as soon as possible and in the safest way possible,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Beutner wants to make it clear that he’s not happy with the funding stipulations set by the state.

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The Safe Schools For All plan, released by Gov. Gavin Newsom in late December, encourages districts to reopen for in-person instruction, once COVID-19 cases are low enough. If districts draft a safety plan with the support of labor unions, county and state health departments, they can be eligible for $450 per student once campuses reopen.

“It’s important that all in our school community understand schools in Los Angeles Unified are prepared to begin in-person instruction as soon as health conditions allow and they also understand how flawed the state’s approach has been in establishing this process,” Beutner said in the statement.

Superintendents of California’s seven biggest school districts, including Beutner, believe that plan is inequitable. In a letter sent to Newsom earlier this month, they argue that high COVID caseloads in metropolitan regions, such as L.A., would prevent their schools from reopening anytime soon. That would leave large districts to continue distance learning, while smaller, more affluent districts can reopen and receive extra state money.

The application requires school districts to submit both a safety plan and a ratified agreement with labor unions by Feb. 1 to be eligible for the funding. Beutner said the plan has long been ready, but it’s unlikely LAUSD will reach an agreement with United Teachers Los Angeles in time to meet the deadline.

“It is not reasonable to assume we can reach an agreement [with UTLA] based on a state health standard that is still being reviewed by the legislature and is not well explained or fully understood by many,” Beutner explained in the statement.

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Beutner told KPCC’s Airtalk with Larry Mantle on Monday that LAUSD and UTLA are still bargaining over a general reopening plan. This week, they plan to consult with health experts to determine if the state’s COVID-19 case threshold for reopening should apply in Los Angeles.

In a press conference last week, UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz confirmed that the union is continuing to bargain with LAUSD over the reopening plan, but intends to release an agreement over small-group specialized instruction first.

UTLA did not respond to a request for comment on Beutner’s plan to submit a draft application to the state.

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