We at the United Teachers of Los Angeles are deeply concerned about comments by members of the LA Board of Supervisors calling for in-person elementary instruction while LA County remains in the deep purple tier. Doing so would almost certainly lead to an increase in infections and school closures, creating even more instability and frustration.

Public schools are at the heart of these hard-hit communities, and educators feel a deep responsibility to advocate for our students and their parents. This latest push reflects the erosion of safety standards, UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz says. 

Last year, the state said it was unsafe to reopen until infections fell below 7 cases per 100,000. Suddenly, as more infectious and fatal variants are spreading, the state claims it’s safe to reopen when infections are at 25 cases per 100,000.

Educators cannot support a broad physical reopening of schools until school staff required to work in person have access to vaccinations. LA County is out of the purple tier and reaches much lower community transmission rate.

All schools have strict multi-layered mitigation strategies in place — such as COVID testing, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation/quarantine procedures. It’s disheartening that once again elected officials are discounting the families that LAUSD serves, who are overwhelmingly low-income families of color. Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander residents are dying at disproportionately higher rates and getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates.

The COVID death rate among Latino residents in L.A. County remains triple the rate for white residents even as the recent surge recedes. 

Resuming in-person instruction when cases are so high and without proper health and safety protocols will result in a yo-yo effect of closures, upending the very educational stability that our students and communities deserve.

Additionally, urban school districts like LAUSD need more reopening resources. As of now, state funding will disproportionately benefit white and wealthier communities, another hit to our most in-need students and families.

Amidst this reckless push, it was announced on Feb. 12 that there is a 35% increase in a rare pediatric inflammatory syndrome linked to coronavirus, known as MIS-C, leading to more hospitalizations in school-aged children.

More than 65% of LAUSD parents surveyed said they do not want to return to in-person classes because of too-high infection rates, while LAUSD communities remain in the purple tier.

If politicians want to listen to the true stakeholders — the parents of LAUSD students — then funding resources should be sent to support and improve distance learning for our neediest children and to control the pandemic.

Cecily Myart-Cruz is president of United Teachers of Los Angeles.