The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) has condemned California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reopen schools for in-person instruction, calling it “a recipe for propagating structural racism.”
Newsom announced on Sunday that he has reached a deal with state legislators to set aside $2 billion in grants to help school districts cover the expenses associated with bringing students back to classrooms safely. Some major districts, such as the 600,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), has kept classrooms closed since last March when the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak hit California.
Under the deal, school districts in “red tier” counties, with seven or fewer new daily cases of CCP virus infection per 100,000 residents, must open elementary schools and at least one grade in middle or high school for in-person learning in order to access all available funds. For the most restrictive “purple tier” counties, school districts would be required to open kindergarten through second grade in order to receive the new money.
While the plan does not force any school district to reopen, schools would start to lose one percent of their share of the $2 billion in reopening funds for each day that they remain closed after Mar. 31. Newsom also noted that teachers are not required to be vaccinated to return to the classroom, saying, “We believe the data and the science bear that out.”
The UTLA, which represents some 33,000 teachers, condemned Newsom’s reopening plan shortly after its release, claiming that it unfairly benefits “white and wealthier and healthier school communities.”
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income Black and brown communities do,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”
The union specifically demands that “purple tier” counties be excluded from the reopening plan, staff in such counties to be either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination before returning to in-person work, and that safety measures such as social distancing and ventilation to be in place in classrooms.
“Educators are being unfairly targeted by wealthier and healthier people who are not experiencing this disease in the same way as students and families in our communities,” the union alleges. “If this were a rich person’s disease, we would have seen a very different response.”
Meanwhile, the statewide California Teachers Association welcomed Newsom’s plan, but also pledged to review the terms “more closely” working with local unions as they negotiate with districts to reopen for in-person instruction.