By Revan Aponso
On March 1st 2021, the California governor, Gavin Newsom announced “You can’t reopen your economy unless you get your schools reopened.” – a move the governor, in conjunction with legislative leaders, formed a plan to reopen schools after being closed for nearly a year. The plan, which gained legislative approval as of March 4, offers school districts a portion of $2 billion in the form of grants to incentivize reopening of schools by the end of March. The grant aims to bring back students between kindergarten and second grade, with a specific focus on at-risk students. These at-risk students include those who are homeless, in foster care, without internet access, and other cohorts whose education has been most affected by the pandemic. The plan includes all counties, including those within the states that are in the purple, the most restrictive, tier, with Covid-19 positivity rates over 8% and more than 7 cases for every 100,000 residents. While a majority of the state is still in the purple tier, the plan aims to reopen schools once they enter the less restrictive, red tier with positivity rates between 5-8%. However, the promised funds are only made available to schools who make the April 1 deadline. Districts that don’t, lose 1% of the promised funding for each day past the deadline.
While the plan may have served as optimism for a return to normality, United Teachers of Los Angeles, the state’s largest teachers union, saw it as premature and unfair. A statement from the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), highly criticized the state’s plan calling it “a recipe for propagating structural racism”. Additionally, UTLA’s president, Cecily Myart-Cruz, pointed out how t Los Angeles County was hit the hardest by the pandemic, making it harder for them to stick to the state’s goal. In a statement she writes, “We are being unfairly targeted by people who are not experiencing this disease in the same ways as students and families are in our communities. If this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response. We would not have the high rates of infections and deaths.” While less populated and more affluent areas of the state were hit less by the pandemic, other counties suffered far worse than most. For example, in Los Angeles County alone, the death rates for Black and Latino citizens were two to three times larger than rates for White Angelinos. Black and Latino communities also suffered far worse economically compared to other demographics, with the unemployment rate rising to 15% during the pandemic.
The state’s deadline to receive full funding also served as a point of contention for the teachers union. Since the plan promises the same economic incentive for all districts in the state, regardless of their socio-economic conditions, according to Myart-Cruz, it “would send extra dollars to affluent areas that are able to reopen because of low infection rates, leaving students from low-income communities of color behind”. Another hurdle districts face is size. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the largest school district in the state with nearly 600,000 students. With more students comes more teachers and other faculty that would need to be taken into account when figuring out how to reopen safely. Because of this, the LAUSD would likely need more time than smaller districts to construct and initiate a reopening plan. While the plan offers all districts an equal incentive to reopen schools, it failed to realize the fact that it will be harder for some districts to reopen than others due to the impact the pandemic had on their respective communities. Therefore, many districts face a new dilemma, delay reopening and risk losing crucial funding, or push reopening and risk the consequences of reopening too early. □
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- Fensterwald, J. (2021, March 1). Newsom, lawmakers set April 1 deadline to reopen schools for K-2 students. EdSource. https://edsource.org/2021/newsom-lawmakers-set-april-1-deadline-to-reopen-schools-for-k-2-students/650247.
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- Mays, M. (2021, March 4). LA teachers union slams California schools plan as ‘propagating structural racism’. POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/04/la-teachers-union-structural-racism-473708.
- Mays, M. (2021, March 4). Newsom strikes school reopening deal with California lawmakers. POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/04/newsom-strikes-school-reopening-deal-with-california-lawmakers-473702.
- The New York Times. (2020, April 1). California Coronavirus Map and Case Count. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html.