Classrooms in the second-largest school district in the nation will continue to be dark for the immediate future after the powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles voted "overwhelmingly" not to return to in-person learning until they deem work conditions to be safe.
The UTLA announced on Friday that its "members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites." Of the UTLA members, 91% voted not to return to classrooms until certain "safety criteria" are met.
The teachers refuse to return to classroom learning until Los Angeles County is out of the purple tier. According to California's "Blueprint for a Safer Economy" restrictions, purple tier regions are areas that have "widespread" COVID-19 infections. In order to get out of the purple tier, a county needs to have fewer than seven coronavirus cases per 100,000 and less than 8% of positive COVID-19 tests. Most of the state of California is in the purple tier, and has been for months.
The Los Angeles teachers union also states that they won't reopen schools until "staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination." California entered Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination effort this month, which allows coronavirus shots for individuals who are age 65 and older, those who work in agriculture, food, emergency services, childcare, and education.
Before they return to classrooms, the United Teachers of Los Angeles also demanded that "safety conditions are in place at our schools including PPE, physical distancing, improved ventilation, and daily cleaning."
"This vote signals that in these most trying times, our members will not accept a rushed return that would endanger the safety of educators, students, and families," said UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz said.
On Thursday, both chambers of California's Legislature nearly unanimously passed a school reopening. The bill does not require schools to reopen, but holds back approximately $2 billion in grant money until districts return for at least part-time in-person learning by March 31. The school will lose 1% of the grant money for every day after April 1 that there is not in-person education, according to the Daily Wire.
The United Teachers of Los Angeles responded to the reopening plan by labeling it as "a recipe for propagating structural racism."
"If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities that do not have the transmission rates that low-income black and brown communities do," Myart-Cruz said. "This is a recipe for propagating structural racism and it is deeply unfair to the students we serve."
"We 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 president added. "If this was a rich person's disease, we would've seen a very different response. We would not have the high rate of infections and deaths. Now educators are asked instead to sacrifice ourselves, the safety of our students, and the safety of our schools."
The Los Angeles Unified School District has over 600,000 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade at over 1,000 schools.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines on how schools should reopen in February, which clearly stated that school reopening should not be conditional on having teachers and faculty vaccinated.
In July, Dr. Robert Redfield, then-director of the CDC, cautioned about the psychological damage that lockdowns and remote schooling could inflict on children.
"But there has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools," he said. "We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID."
The former CDC director also said in July that he would "100%" have his grandchildren go back to school.
Last month, the nation's fifth-largest school district proclaimed that it wanted to reopen as "quickly as possible" after a rash of student suicides. Clark County School District in Nevada experienced double the number of student suicides in nine months this year compared to all of last year.
Following a worrying number of child suicides and suicide attempts, the city of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against its own school district to reopen.