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LAUSD Leaders Call Council Member’s Proposal To Sue District A ‘Political Stunt’

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The leadership of the Los Angeles Unified School District lashed out today at an L.A. city councilmember’s proposal to sue the nation’s second-largest district in an attempt to force open campuses.

Yesterday, Councilmember Joe Buscaino, whose district includes San Pedro, Watts, and the Harbor area, said he will introduce a resolution at next Tuesday’s council meeting that would direct City Attorney Mike Feuer to sue the district.

In statements and interviews today, LAUSD leaders called Buscaino’s plan a stunt, political theater and grandstanding.

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LAUSD School Board President Kelly Gonez was the first to respond to Buscaino’s proposal on Twitter, pointing out that the COVID-19 case rate in L.A. County is above the state’s threshold to reopen schools.

Buscaino said his proposal to sue LAUSD was inspired by a similar lawsuit filed by the city of San Francisco against its school district. While San Francisco Unified is eligible to start reopening schools because its case rate is below the state-mandated threshold, LAUSD is not.

Gonez doesn’t claim legal expertise, but she’s confident the city would not have a case against the district.

“I don’t think that there’s any standing.” Gonez said. “I think it’s clearly political in nature.”

While the district is currently ineligible to open campuses, LAUSD and the district’s teachers union have resisted pressure to reopen as soon as the case rate drops below the threshold, which L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has suggested could happen in a matter of weeks.

The district and the union are still bargaining over reopening plans, including demands from teachers to get prioritized for vaccinations. Gonez says the city council hasn’t addressed those concerns, and prioritized reopening card rooms and businesses over schools.

“The words ring hollow because the actions have not followed,” Gonez said. “Mr. Buscaino has not yet once reached out and I think that speaks volumes.”

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner shared Gonez’s critiques in his own statement:

“Grandstanding political stunts like this are precisely why schools in Los Angeles remain closed. Elected leaders from Sacramento to Los Angeles City Hall need to put deeds behind their words and take the steps necessary to actually put schools and the children they serve first.”

LAUSD School Board Member Nick Melvoin called Buscaino’s proposal "political theater," but acknowledged that LAUSD could reopen in-person services for high-need students at any time. Small group special education classes are allowed by the state, if districts abide by safety guidelines.

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“I have been pushing and will continue to push for the District to resume the one-on-one and small-group, in-person support for high need students that we offered in the Fall and that we can currently offer per County public health guidelines,” Melvoin said in a statement.

“I have asked for a plan—and an updated agreement with our teachers' union—that will enable us to serve even more students than we did last semester until our campuses are legally allowed to open for larger hybrid instruction,” he said.

Councilmember Buscaino responded to the criticism from LAUSD, and shared Melvoin's calls to reopen special education classes.

"LAUSD has refused to restart those services after the surge. That’s the first step they should be taking immediately," Buscaino said in a statement.

At an L.A. County Department of Public Health press conference today, Chief Science Officer Dr. Paul Simon was asked if he recommends local districts reopen special education classes in-person.

“We're not telling schools what they should do,” Simon said. “We feel like...each school district has to make that decision based on their own local circumstances.”

The L.A. City Attorney’s office did not respond to our requests for comment.

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