Evelyn Aleman, Reseda resident and President of “Our Voice"

While it’s hoped that the COVID-19 Omicron surge will ease over the next two weeks, Latino parents who have formed an organization called “Our Voice Communities for Quality Education” — who describe themselves as “parent leaders of LAUSD” — sent out an open leter on Jan. 25, to urge the district to make in-person [at school] learning optional.

They’ve raised a variety of concerns as a response to the high rate of numbers of LAUSD students who’ve tested positive with COVID-19 since returning to school.

They hope their concerns will be taken seriously by the district’s leadership, the teachers union, state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The group, comprised, mostly of working parents, says that it understands the mental health and academic benefits for children to attend school. But the impact to the Latino community, in particular, has not been considered, nor has the risk to the entire family when a child tests positive for COVID-19 due to attending school.

Parents representing schools throughout LAUSD — including San Fernando High School, Cleveland Charter High School, and Sylmar Biotech Health Academy — signed the letter. They emphasized the need for in-person learning to be “optional, rather than imposed” on them.

“How many more COVID cases will it take for schools to shift strategies to ensure families are safe?” asked Evelyn Aleman, Reseda resident and President of “Our Voice.” 

Aleman, a mother of an LAUSD High school student, said the group has been keeping running tallies of the numbers of school absences and has posted them on their Facebook page. They question LAUSD’s COVID-19 safety measures, and the information given to parents that “school is the safest place their children can be,” when LAUSD reported 130,000 students absent from LAUSD’s schools on Jan. 14, 21.

The group maintains that “the community is at risk” when a student returns from school exposed to COVID-19.

“Many Latinos in California are essential workers. We’re 80% of the workforce in agriculture, more than 50% in the food industry, and 60% in construction. Our children comprise 74% of students in the LAUSD, 54% in public schools throughout the state, and we’re being infected,” the group pointed out in its letter.

It’s been noted that in many Latino communities, households are multigenerational with grandparents living in the same home. Children who are exposed to COVID-19 at school can carry it to elderly parents who are at high risk and may be immunocompromised.

In a separate interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun / el Sol, Dr. Ruth Lindo, a board-certified pediatrician who practices in disadvantaged areas, said she is all too familiar with this scenario.

“Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren have become sick and died after being exposed, and the child winds up in foster care,” she said. “When they turn 18, they have to leave foster care and they no longer have their grandparents or anyone to care for them.”

Lindo added that it is sensible to offer online learning during the winter months when there is an expected virus surge. 

The group also points out that when children are sent home because they’ve been infected at school, they don’t have the academic support they need to work from home and improved online learning is needed.

“We believe that teachers who are providing in-person instruction can also do this via Zoom. Our children cannot be successful in class or prepare for 21st-century jobs if we do not have access to the internet. We ask that access to reliable and affordable internet be a reality and priority — immediately. We cannot wait any longer,” the letter stated.

The parents acknowledged that under current state laws, funding for public schools is based on the in-person daily attendance of students, and LAUSD runs the risk of losing funds. It’s the parents’ position, however, that those laws should be changed based on the global pandemic.

“We believe that this change is needed and would work toward a common good, which is the safety of our students. We ask for mental and psychological help for our families, with urgency, and especially for our teenagers. We can no longer ignore the existing need for these services in our communities given the impact and trauma due to COVID,” the letter stated.

Parents also included concerns for students who’ve been “shortchanged” and the need for additional college counselors especially with the disruption of recent school years, which has made it more difficult they believe for students to prepare and plan for college.

“Schools cannot continue to offer resources for higher education in the same way they did before the pandemic. The need today is much greater. We ask for additional college counselors and individualized, personalized help on each campus. Given the current circumstances we are living, we ask leadership to adapt to the needs of students and their families,” the letter concluded.

To reach the Our Voice group go to: ovfe.org or @ourvoiceforeducation.

Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this article.