LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent has joined forces with education leaders in New York and Chicago to call for federal funds to reopen schools.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says ongoing distant learning is having lasting effects on all students, particularly students of color, and the federal government has not prioritized education.
“Schools are the forgotten child,” Beutner said. “It almost feels like Thanksgiving. You got the adult table and the kid table and we’re out in the garage knocking, saying 'please let us in.'”
Beutner wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with the help of the superintendents of Chicago and New York City Public Schools. Together they are urging the federal government to create a major nationwide effort to reopen schools, and write a $125 billion check to make it happen. That money would help do four main things in order to reopen schools: Clean and sanitize, provide COVID-19 testing, mental health support, and more robust summer school.
It calculates out to $2,000 per LAUSD student.
“We can’t go back to that child in three or four or five years and say we couldn’t find those $2,000 back in 2021 when we needed it. How about now we try to teach you to read when you’re 15 years old. It’s too late,” Beutner said.
LAUSD parent Tunette Powell has three boys who are learning from home. She sees how hard the teachers are working to keep kids engaged, but she can also see the difference in the quality of her sons’ education.
“It’s very concerning for me and my oldest son. There has just been an emphasis on just get your work done and so no more is it about learning and creativity and asking questions. It’s just on completing the work,” Powell said.
Just completing the work is leaving her son disengaged. He’s craving social connection. She wants schools to reopen as soon as possible as she is growing more concerned about learning loss.
“I don’t want him to lose the creative kid who loves learning, who loves asking questions, who loves history, who loves theater who loves math, who loves poetry and writing and expressing himself and reading. None of those things are happening in that engaging way online,” Powell said.
Reopening schools needs to be a priority, and so does safety. Beutner says virus contraction rates are too high now for that to happen soon, but a plan needs to be in place. He admits a reopening plan may include mandatory vaccines.
“We test adults for TB, can’t come work at a school or be active at a school unless you’ve been tested for tuberculosis. We require measles and mumps vaccinations, so I think we’re heading to a place where it will be required,” Beutner said. “We’ll certainly continue to provide the online option for families who have a different set of risks or look at that calculation differently. But it just makes sense to me and I’m sure health authorities will weigh in in due course.”
Powell believes in vaccines and in science. Once the vaccine is proved safe for kids, she says she and the boys will be in line to get it.
But for now, she’s focused on getting through the school year.
“Grace has been very important,” Powell said. “Giving myself grace realizing that they might not get every academic thing this school year but at the end of it will my kids be well? Will they be whole? That’s really been my focus.”
LAUSD has reported Ds and Fs by high school students have increased about 15% compared with last year, and reading proficiency in elementary grades has fallen 10%. Almost 80% of students live in poverty and 82% are Latino and African American.
In a video statement released Monday, Superintendent Beutner said LAUSD would not reopen schools for in-person learning when the spring semester gets underway in January, stating "It's clear we're a long way from reopening schools with the virus this high."
Beutner provided no additional timetable for when schools will reopen.