LAUSD pushes back on CDC school reopening report, calls for more guidance from state on students returning to classrooms

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
LAUSD pushes back on CDC school reopening report
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Experts from the CDC say that with the right mitigation measures, there is a path to low-risk, in-person learning. But local educators are voicing concerns over bringing students and teachers back to the classroom.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that with the right mitigation measures, there is a path to low-risk, in-person learning. But Los Angeles Unified School District officials are pushing back on the guidance, in addition to citing inconsistent direction from the state which they say makes it difficult to decide when students will be able to return to campus.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday, CDC researchers noted that the kind of spread seen in crowded offices and long-term care facilities has not been reported in schools, according to CNN. In-school transmission has occurred, but the researchers said there is little evidence that it contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.

Two new studies from the CDC published Tuesday in agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report demonstrate that with the right precautions, children can return to school safely.

RELATED: In-person learning during COVID pandemic is possible with the right precautions, CDC researchers say

But some local teachers and the superintendent of LAUSD are not comfortable returning to in-person learning off of that CDC report alone.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says in addition to the safety precautions, teachers and staff need to get vaccinated before returning to the classroom. And in L.A. County, it could be another month before teachers can get in line for the shot.

One teacher expressed her concern about returning to in-person learning.

"Many of my colleagues are like no way. I'm nervous for my family. I have 37 kids in one of my classes. How do you socially distance that class? What about masks, what about washing hands, what does that look like during the day? Do we let them leave every 10, 15 minutes to go wash their hands? Nobody wants to talk about that. So no, we're not ready," said Keara Williams, Augustus Hawkins High School business teacher.

While L.A. County teachers will have to wait to get vaccinated, Riverside County has already expanded eligibility to teachers. Ventura County and the city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, say it will open vaccinations up to teachers soon.

The state previously said schools could reopen if the community's daily coronavirus rate was less than seven out of every 100,000 people.

RELATED: California to centralize vaccine, base eligibility on age

Then Governor Newsom issued a proposal that raised it to 28 out of 100,000 before changing it again to fewer than 25.

Beutner released a statement Tuesday, saying in part:

"On December 30th, Gov. Newsom proposed a set of actions to support the reopening of schools. Unfortunately, it falls well short of what's needed to help our schools. The state requires school districts to submit an application as part of this process and that application must include school safety plans and ratified labor agreements with all who work in schools."
"We intend to send a draft application to Sacramento as a good-faith effort to demonstrate our commitment to reopen schools as soon as possible and in the safest way possible. Under the proposed "Safe Schools for All" plan, there would be a $70 million loss in funding for schools in Los Angeles Unified if the district does not submit an application by the February 1st deadline and further reduction of $205 million if the application is not made by March 1st."

Beutner is also pushing for the state to start offering vaccines to teachers and others who work in schools.

"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," he said.

WATCH: Are teacher vaccinations enough to reopen LAUSD schools?

The United Teachers Los Angeles Union says lower infection rates in the district are also required for schools to reopen.

"This crisis is no time to lower the standards for instruction, health and safety in schools, with protections for school employees," Beutner said.

But that stance could cost LAUSD up to $275 million in state funding because it still does not have a reopening deal worked out with the teachers union -- a requirement for fast-approaching deadlines in February and March set by the governor.

Beutner says its unlikely the union will agree to a return contract until the state health standard on infection rates is approved by the legislature.

"At no time since March 2020 have COVID levels in the Los Angeles area met the state standard for schools to consider reopening," Beutner said in a written statement. "That is a challenge which state and local health authorities must do more to address."

Eyewitness News reached out to UTLA for comment, but our calls were not returned.