LA School District, Teachers Reach Deal on Better Distance Learning for Students

LOS ANGELES (CN) — For yet another semester, the novel coronavirus pandemic will force students in the nation’s second largest school district to continue attending classes at home. But a deal announced Monday between Los Angeles education officials and the teachers union will enhance structured online learning for students. 

In a virtual address, LA Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner said students will not return to the classroom with Covid-19 infections continuing to surge across the region.

Screenshot of Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner’s virtual update Monday on the upcoming fall semester.

“The threat from the virus is currently too great,” Beutner said. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise on. Our goal is to have students back in schools as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.”

In keeping classrooms shuttered for the fall semester, Beutner said the district is balancing its three main objectives: keeping the school community healthy and safe, educating students, and providing a safety net to students and their families. 

“Our commitment is to provide the best education, whether online or at school,” Beutner said. 

Last month, Beutner announced the district’s more than 600,000 students would continue learning from home as novel coronavirus cases showed no signs of falling to levels that would make it safe enough to reopen schools.

Students’ safety and the quality of their learning are pillars of the education agreement reached late Sunday between LAUSD and its educators’ labor union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

The tentative agreement will improve the structure of classes by mandating daily interaction, feedback for students and both whole and small-group instruction. Schools will also create opportunities for ongoing projects and independent student work.

Between Aug. 20 and 28, students and parents can take part in walk-through sessions on virtual classroom technology as part of the district’s “smart start” to the school year, UTLA leaders said.

Under the agreement, educators can choose to teach from their empty classrooms and will have to complete their own professional development training between Aug. 17 and 20. 

UTLA official Arlene Inouye said in a statement Monday the new school year will have student and family support mechanisms built in, such as office hours for school counselors and more flexible schedules to meet students’ needs.

“When LAUSD school campuses closed in March, educators, parents and students had to adapt to an emergency moment, and over just a few days,” Inouye said. “This time, it was important to think through the challenges and to incorporate feedback from that experience — using information from a parent and member survey and feedback from members — which is reflected in this final agreement.”

The agreement will be voted on next week by the LAUSD Board of Education as well as by the UTLA membership. If approved, the agreement would remain in place until the end of the year, or until students return to LAUSD schools for regular instruction.

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in the statement the union will continue pushing for more resources to assist students and their families during this time of multiple crises. 

“This agreement will be brought to life by educators, students and parents,” Myart-Cruz said. “We must invest more resources to create healthy and safe schools and to build on this MOU with responsiveness to feedback from educators, parents, and students.” 

Myart-Cruz and Beutner said in a joint statement Monday the agreement sets the standard for students’ best learning experience.

“Since schools closed, Los Angeles Unified has set the standard for food relief for families, while working diligently to provide devices and internet access for all students, professional development for educators, and the opportunity for all students to participate in summer school,” the statement said. “We have all learned from our experiences with distance learning since March and we’ve applied what we learned to this agreement.”

LAUSD and the San Diego Unified School District have been closed since early March and will reopen — albeit virtually — on Aug. 18 and Aug. 31, respectively.

During the now five-month lockdown, the virus has exploded across Southern California with over 192,100 confirmed infections and nearly 4,700 deaths, according to LA County public health officials. San Diego County has about 29,800 infections and over 560 deaths.

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