The president of a Los Angeles teachers’ union said Monday that the state’s plan to return to in-person learning is “propagating structural racism.”
Her comments come after California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday reached a deal with state Democratic lawmakers that gives LA County schools $6.6 billion in incentives to reopen before April 1.
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to White and wealthier schools that don’t have the transmission rates that low-income, Black and Brown communities do,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a Monday news conference. “This is a recipe for propagating structural racism, and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve.”
She added that minority communities are being “unfairly targeted by people who are not experiencing this disease in the same ways as students and families are in our communities.” The UTLA believes schools should only reopen once all teachers have been vaccinated or have access to vaccines.
“If this was a rich person’s disease, we would’ve seen a very different response. We would not have the high rates of infections and deaths,” she said. “Now, educators are asked instead to sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students and the safety of our schools.”
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While there are disparities between the number of minority California and LA residents contracting COVID-19 compared to white California and LA residents, studies also show that school closures are also disproportionately impacting the learning abilities of minority students and the work-life balance of minority parents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that there are disparities between the percent of minority communities contracting and dying from COVID-19 and the percent of minority communities among the total U.S. population. Hispanic Americans, for example, are dying of COVID-19 at a rate that is disproportionate to the percent of Hispanic Americans that make up the total U.S. population.
The same is true for LA, specifically, according to LA County Public Health.
Cases among Latino residents dropped from a high of 2,400 per 100,000 people in January to 453 cases per 100,000 people as of February, while Black residents had nearly 234 cases per 100,000 residents and Asian and White residents had about 180 cases per 100,000 residents during the same month.
Among COVID-19 deaths in LA between December 2020 and January 2021, 46% were Latino residents, 29% were White residents, 16% were Asian residents and 8% were Black residents, according to LA County Public Health.
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But the CDC has also noted that there were “unintended consequences of COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” such as school and business closures, that have hurt minority communities, leading to “lost wages, unemployment and loss of health insurance as a result of business closures,” as well as “stress and social isolation because of restrictions on social gatherings.”
A study of San Francisco students found that students of color and low-income students have suffered the most as the school district has stuck to virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Assessments of the San Francisco students’ math and reading abilities mirror other studies that raise concerns about disadvantaged students falling behind. School district data from fall 2020 showed that low-income students have fallen further behind than higher-income students, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The same disparity applied to Black, Latino and Asian students compared to White students, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Data also showed that Black and Latino students were more likely to be absent for 60% of class time or more, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Similarly, a study of 18 California school districts published on Jan. 25 found that “certain student groups, especially low-income students and English language learners (ELLs), are falling behind more compared to others.”
The Brookings Institute, a liberal nonprofit, reported that Black mothers are, on average, more likely to be working double shifts of both paid and unpaid work, citing the U.S. Labor Department and Pew Research. The pandemic has only made numbers worse, noting that Black children are more likely to live in areas with mandated online learning, and Black mothers are more likely to have less access to child care or unemployment opportunities, the nonprofit found.
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California public schools have been closed for nearly a full year.
Parents from more than 100 California school districts sent a letter to Newsom and dozens of state assembly members demanding schools reopen.
“Without a doubt, school closures have exacerbated the existing gender, socioeconomic and racial inequities, as well as hurt the mental, emotional and physical well-being of our children. The only way to prevent further damage is to reopen public schools now for all grade levels and give parents the choice if they would like their children to receive in-person education,” the parents wrote.
The letter noted that the Harvard Institute of Global Health issued revised recommendations for school reopenings in December, saying schools should “be open even at the very high levels of spread we are now seeing, provided that they strictly implement strategies of infection control.”
“Our kids have been out of school for 349 days. We are rapidly approaching one year mark of public school closures. It is time for action, not further negotiation,” the parents wrote. “To that end, if you cannot reach an agreement with the legislature to reopen schools immediately with the principles outlined below, we demand action through whatever means necessary to ensure no child is left behind.”
Neither Newsom’s office nor the UTLA responded to inquiries from Fox News.
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Newsom’s $6.6 billion reopening plan would allocate $2 billion toward safety measures to support in-person learning and $4.6 billion toward learning opportunities like summer school, tutoring and mental health services, according to the governor’s website.
“Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when,” Newsom said in a Monday statement. “Now, our collective charge is to build on that momentum and local leadership, and – just as critically – do whatever it takes to meet the mental health and academic needs of our students, including over the summer.”
Fox News’ Evie Fordham contributed to this report.