Teachers, parents make demands on LAUSD distance-learning guidelines

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With the start of school just three weeks away, Los Angeles Unified School District is facing mounting pressure from teachers and parents this week over distance learning guidelines that still haven’t been agreed on.

On one side, the union representing teachers put out a statement Tuesday, July 28, saying the district was pushing an “unacceptable position” that members be required to teach virtually from classrooms. They say even returning to empty campuses would be a health risk.

“Our Bargaining Team called out the disrespect behind the district’s stance and questioned how LAUSD can feel so emboldened as to try to force our members — who are majority female and majority people of color — to return to work during a surging pandemic, putting educators’ health and safety at risk,” the statement read.

The union said it would be back at the bargaining table Wednesday. LAUSD officials did not offer comment on the negotiations.

On the other side were parents, a group of which recently sent a letter to the district Wednesday threatening legal action if the distance did not produce within five days an agreement that protects children’s fundamental right to an education.

Four parents organized by the group Parent Revolution sent a letter to the district Wednesday from law firm Kirkland and Ellis with the demands.

“If LAUSD does not reply or cannot come to such an agreement, these families will seek the intervention of the legal system to protect the rights of all students enrolled in LAUSD schools,” a statement from the group read.

LAUSD officials did not respond to calls for comment on the group’s letter .

Parent groups allege that due to agreements made between United Teachers of Los Angeles and the district in April, that students were provided subpar education. Key points of concern centered around how much time students were required to be available for students directly and teaching classes using live video conferencing platforms was optional.

The district’s own surveys have shown deficiencies in the distance learning platforms it rushed to roll out in April under urgent shutdown orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. Those surveys showed 60% of secondary students participated in online learning each day for the nine weeks of school closure. Participation was even lower among low-income, Black, Latino and students with disabilities, the report found.

Lawyers representing the four parents say the disparities were not by accident and they resulted in denying children their constitutional rights to education.

“My child deserves her right to receive an education from LAUSD,” said Vicenta Martinez, whose daughter is entering the second grade in August. “Distance learning was a disaster for us. In the spring, she did not receive any instruction from her teacher and she didn’t learn anything new. I refuse to repeat what happened.”

In the first several weeks of remote learning ranged from paper-and-pencil packets to lectures on Zoom as teachers struggled to reach their students. The district has acknowledged the difficulties and vowed to make improvements. Many took place toward the end of the school year as there was a noticeable improvement, but the experience has not been uniform.

Superintendent Austin Beutner recently touted the diverse summer school programs that took place including unique interactive platforms such as one designed with film director James Cameron.

“We’ve really never done anything at this scale or this way,” Buetner said about the summer school programs. “If we can keep a school community together, learning and engaged amidst all that’s going on around us, we’ll all be better off.”

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