LA City Councilman Plans Motion to Explore Legal Options to Reopen Schools

February 5, 2021 Updated: February 7, 2021

LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino plans to introduce a motion next week asking the city attorney to explore legal options for forcing the LA Unified School District (LAUSD) to reopen its campuses for in- person learning, despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I stand with the 1,500 pediatricians in Southern California as well as the director of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] who are calling for the safe reopening of our schools,” Buscaino said in a statement Feb. 4.

The Southern California Chapter 2 of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 1,500 pediatricians, released a statement Jan. 3 calling for schools to reopen.

Public school campuses have remained largely shuttered because Los Angeles County is still in the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s COVID-19 economic-reopening roadmap. Under those restrictions, schools are permitted to offer in-person instruction only for limited numbers of high-needs students. Schools and school districts can also seek waivers from the county to provide in-person instruction for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

The LAUSD, however, has not sought any of those waivers. The district cut off all other in-person activities late last year amid surging COVID cases.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and the teachers’ union have insisted that all educators and staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before schools reopen. United Teachers Los Angeles union has called for vaccines and extensive other safety measures to ensure the safety of educators before campuses reopen.

But the director of the CDC said Feb. 3 that vaccinations should not be prerequisite for in-person learning to resume. Gov. Gavin Newsom backed that position.

Newsom has submitted a proposed school-reopening plan to the state legislature, aimed at allowing schools to reopen sooner with an array of safety measures and protective equipment.

But Beutner and the leaders of some other school districts have balked at the plan.

Responding to Buscaino’s planned motion seeking legal action, LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez on Jan. 4 wrote on Twitter, “Mr. Buscaino, LA County does not and has never met the state’s standards for reopening our schools.”

“Our city and county leaders could have prioritized schools and children by keeping businesses closed, but instead chose to keep malls, gyms and cardrooms open,” Gonez wrote. “Weren’t you also the one advocating to keep outdoor dining in the midst of the COVID surge? If you actually want to help our schools reopen, I welcome your help getting our school staff vaccinated ASAP and prioritizing schools [over] businesses so that we curb the community spread that is devastating low-income communities of color in L.A.”

Buscaino said the district has had nearly a year to prepare for students to return, and said he believes keeping students out of school prevents them from having a “real shot at a quality education.”

“I feel obligated to take a stand,” he said.

Details about the motion set to be introduced Feb. 2 were not available.

In a recent message to the school community, Beutner said vaccines are “the last piece to help reopen classrooms.”

“This will not only protect the health and safety of staff but will provide enormous benefit to children and their families with a faster reopening of schools and of the economy more broadly by enabling the working families we serve to go back to work,” Beutner said.