UTLA and LAUSD representatives in talks for full-time on-campus instruction in fall

With summer school starting in two-and-a-half weeks, it’s “imperative” that the Los Angeles Unified School District and teachers union reach an agreement soon on COVID-19 health and safety measures for those who are on school grounds year-round, the head of United Teachers Los Angeles said Friday, June 4.

The current school reopening agreement between the union and district, which lays out health and safety standards for spring semester, will end June 30. The parties have been negotiating for weeks on similar agreements for the summer as well as the fall, when the district plans to have the vast majority of students and staff back on campus for in-person instruction.

“We are pressing for a new agreement that locks in most of the concrete, enforceable COVID protocols from our current agreement that have proven to keep students, staff and families safe,” Myart-Cruz said during her weekly update.

This would include having students and staff on campus undergo COVID-19 testing and health screenings, as well as maintaining high standards for proper room ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and maintaining a COVID-19 compliance task force at each school, she said.

She made no mention of how spread apart classroom desks must be — a contentious issue this past spring when desks remained 6 feet apart as part of the agreement between the district and teachers union. It limited the number of students that could be in a room, thus preventing schools from fully reopening full-time.

Myart-Cruz did note, however, that anyone on campus must continue to wear a mask when fall semester begins, though it’s possible the union and district will agree to language permitting them to revisit the issue after Sept. 1, she said.

“Having more children vaccinated may move us closer to eliminating the mask mandate, but as of right now, masking is a critical way to protect our learning communities and the most vulnerable among us,” she said. “Even as California celebrates improved COVID rates and moves toward a full reopening, our hard-hit communities continue to suffer.”

Some parents have complained about the mask mandate, especially as state officials have announced that California’s mask mandate will end in most circumstances after June 15. Superintendent Austin Beutner has also been supportive of a continued mask mandate at schools for the time being, noting that the majority of students have not been vaccinated.

In other bargaining news, Myart-Cruz acknowledged again Friday that the district and union are in talks to return to a more traditional school day, noting that the parties are considering ending hybrid instructional models.

A recent survey of UTLA members indicated that the hybrid schedule was the most challenging aspect of returning to in-person learning this spring. In Los Angeles, elementary teachers had to repeat their lessons twice — first to a morning cohort of students, then again to an afternoon cohort — and at the secondary level, teachers often had to report in-person to empty or near-empty classrooms while continuing to provide instructions online to students.

A return to more normal settings, where students can build deeper relationships with teachers, peers and other adults such as counselors, is possible for the fall, Myart-Cruz said. While she hadn’t ruled out this possibility before, she had said in late April that it was too early then to tell what infection rates might look like in the fall and whether the union would be comfortable with a full reopening of schools. That comment raised concerns among parents seeking a firm commitment from the district that schools will offer full-day instruction five days a week.

“Thankfully it looks like we will be able to achieve that next year if pandemic conditions continue to improve,” she said of a return to a more normal school day.

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At the same time, she noted that the union and district are in talks over an online academy to offer students whose families wish to remain in distance learning.

And as she’d previously reported, Myart-Cruz reiterated that UTLA has proposed that the district offer signing bonuses to new hires as a way to recruit educators during a time when there is a “historic” shortage of available educators in the labor market.

Additionally, the union is continuing to push for child care options for district employees as a way to recruit and retain high-quality educators. A benefit the district offered this spring to help working parents during the pandemic — in which qualifying employees receive a $500 monthly stipend for each child 5 or younger enrolled in a state-licensed child care program — will end July 31.  It also agreed to a work-day flexibility for teachers with child care issues last month.

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