By Larry Sand
Children in L.A. are suffering at the hands of the school district and its “labor partner.”
Public schools are finally opening in Los Angeles, but education will be unlike anything the kids have ever seen. Elementary students will attend school just half the time – groups of students will have in-person instruction either in the morning or the afternoon. Middle and high school students return to the classroom just two or three days a week on a staggered schedule. But, instead of going from class to class as usual, they will spend the entire day in one classroom with an advisory teacher, whose job is essentially that of a baby sitter. The students will have their subject teachers instructing them online, just as they did during the lockdown.
Hence, the damage that has been done to children will be somewhat mitigated, but certainly not eliminated. And make no mistake about it, there has been damage. A study by the non-profit Great Public Schools Now shows that in L.A. over 13,000 middle and high school students were consistently disengaged in fall 2020, and another 56,000 did not actively participate on a daily basis. Also, two out of three students are falling behind in literacy and math, with black and Latino students disproportionately affected. The study also maintains that graduation rates will plummet. As things stand now, 43 percent of the class of 2022, 37 percent of the class of 2023, and 30 percent of the class of 2024 will not graduate.
While much of the educational disaster can be attributed to the fact that many students are not cut out for computer-based learning, those who thrive in such a circumstance were clearly cheated also. The report notes that while students in Long Beach received 255 minutes of “synchronous” instruction each day, and those in San Diego got 240 minutes, kids in L.A. received just 114 minutes with their teacher. (According to a deal struck in April, the official teacher workday was to go from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. But obviously most of that time was not spent on instructing students.)
If there is any good news to this seemingly unending abuse, it is that parents are angry and legally fighting back. In fact, three lawsuits have been filed in L.A. so far.
The first action came in September 2020 when L.A. public school parents sued, alleging that the school district failed its students by offering less instructional time compared with other large districts in California, and cutting the hours that teachers are required to work.
The second lawsuit, filed on March 31st, importantly included the United Teachers of Los Angeles as defendants—the union truly is the dog that wags the Los Angeles Unified School District tail. This litigation does not focus on learning loss, but rather on the psychological damage that’s been done to the students. The plaintiffs claim that their children have variously become suicidal, isolated, depressed, addicted, clinically obese, and had their future prosperity needlessly imperiled. The lawsuit calls out UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz, who has an advanced degree in gaslighting. From the onset of the Covid mess, she has insisted that opening schools would propagate “structural racism” and accused “wealthy white and Middle Eastern parents” of stalking union members on social media regarding the parents’ desire to see their children return to physical classrooms.” Among other things, the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages equal to the annual per-pupil cost to educate a student in LAUSD – about $15,920 per child – “to be used to satisfy tuition at an institution that does provide in-person learning.” It is worth noting that the parents represented in the case are going by their initials instead of by their full names, because they fear retaliation by UTLA.
Then, on April 7th, a third group of parents – who claim their children have been illegally shortchanged by LAUSD’s return-to-school plan – announced they are seeking a court order to force the district to reopen “to the greatest extent possible” within seven days. This litigation targets LAUSD and Superintendent Austin Beutner. The parents claim that the present reopening plan “violates legal requirements,” and denies students their “constitutional right” to a public education.
As the lawsuits pile up, there is one other example of LAUSD fecklessness. UTLA recently insisted that teachers and other district employees with children under five years old receive a $500 monthly child care stipend when they return to classrooms. In no time, LAUSD rolled over and agreed with the union’s demand. Critics have jumped on this, pointing out that essential workers like healthcare and grocery store employees who never stopped working in-person are also parents of children. They get nada, however. But then again, they don’t work for UTLAUSD.
Austin Beutner often uses the term “labor partner’ when talking about the teachers union. But he is wrong; there is no partnership. UTLA is the boss. Only in this case, the boss doesn’t pay the employees. That task belongs to the taxpayers, who are at the mercy of the ravenous union and the kowtowing school district. Teachers in L.A. have logged in far fewer hours than before the pandemic, yet their pay and very generous benefits have not suffered one iota. Perhaps if teachers took a pay hit, they may be willing to actually do the job they were hired to do. But that would require a school district that really cared about the needs of children and had respect for taxpayers. Maybe the next lawsuit will take on this issue.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.