(The Center Square) – One of the largest teachers unions in the state of California, the United Teachers Los Angeles with 35,000 members, says public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District should not reopen if certain policies are not implemented on the state and national level, including defunding the police and implementing Medicare for All.
The union called on local authorities to "keep school campuses closed when the semester is scheduled to begin on Aug. 18."
The union’s demands listed in a recently released policy paper include implementing a moratorium on charter schools, defunding the police, increasing taxes on the wealthy, implementing Medicare-for-All, and the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump approving House Democrats’ HEROES Act, which allocates an additional $116 billion in federal education funding to states.
United Teachers Los Angeles also says in order to reopen schools, students must be sequestered in small groups throughout the school day, students must be provided with facial coverings and other forms of protective equipment, and school layouts must be redesigned to facilitate social distancing.
Jordan Bruneau, with the California Public Policy Center, told the Center Square, “The LA teachers union is shamelessly exploiting COVID-19 and holding children's education hostage to achieve its ultimate goal of banning school choice. Rather than looking at the widespread evidence and expert opinion, including the American Association of Pediatrics, that schools can reopen safely, unions are using kids as pawns for their own benefit.”
United Teachers Los Angeles argues that police violence "is a leading cause of death and trauma for Black people, and is a serious public health and moral issue," and is calling on authorities to "shift the astronomical amount of money devoted to policing to education and other essential needs such as housing and public health."
Larry Sand, president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network, points to a 2017 Washington Post article that found that, since 2006, “the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings.” It also found that “departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.”
Sand notes it is the unions keeping accused police officers in their jobs because many police union contracts include a “’law enforcement bill of rights,’ under which cops are obligated to answer questions only from their employers, and have the right to refuse to talk to outside police agencies.”
Because of teacher union contracts in California, “the collectively bargained dismissal statutes are so laborious that many administrators don’t even bother trying to navigate the 10-step process that must be taken before a dismissal is finalized,” Sand adds. “Not surprisingly, almost no tenured teacher loses their job for any reason. As pointed out during the Vergara trial in 2014, 2.2 of the state’s 300,000 teachers (0.0008 percent) are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 8 percent of employees in the private sector dismissed annually for cause.”
United Teachers Los Angeles also claims that, "As it stands, the only people guaranteed to benefit from the premature physical reopening of schools amidst a rapidly accelerating pandemic are billionaires and the politicians they’ve purchased.”
But according to a White House summit on reopening schools, “Research has shown that school closures disproportionately affect the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement and harming economic potential. Lengthy time away from schools – and associated interruptions in supportive services – make it difficult for schools to best serve their students’ wellbeing.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has urged local governments to reopen schools this fall, stating, “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
More than $13 billion from the CARES Act already has been dedicated to helping K-12 students enrolled in public, charter and private schools impacted by the coronavirus. Through the Treasury Department’s $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, state and local governments have been announcing funding amounts distributed to helping their local school districts.
Long periods away from school, the AAP says, interrupts support services for children and often results in social isolation. These factors make it “difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” they add. “This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk.”