"Many LAUSD students reside in low-income communities of color that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic."
- Aannestad Andelin & Corn LLP,
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second-largest school district in the country with "nearly 600,000 students in grades transitional kindergarten through 12". Parents for seven of these children are suing the district to loosen the safety procedures as campuses begin to reopen after a year-long shutdown due to COVID-19. If the court rules in their favor, the LAUSD would not be allowed "to enforce mandatory 6-foot distancing provisions" or require "mandatory...student COVID-19 testing provisions". Without providing any proof that these precautions inflict any harm to their seven children, these four parents want to create conditions that other parents will feel are less safe than what exists with the district's plans. This could needlessly endanger their children and their families.
If the LAUSD is blocked from implementing these common-sense precautions, my wife and I will not be able to send our two daughters back to their campuses. To do so would jeopardize the well-being of my wife who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was 23 and for whom contracting COVID-19 could be deadly. Testing and physical distancing will help to ensure that our daughters are not exposed at school and bring the virus home to their mother.
Even with the current plans, we are going to have to wait to send our daughters back to school until after my wife has received the fullest possible protection from the COVID-19 vaccine. Her current treatment is a cancer drug that depletes her immune system and interferes with the body's ability to respond to the vaccine. Therefore, she had to wait until enough time had passed since her infusion treatment so that the vaccine could work properly. In the meantime, her compromised immune system made her even more vulnerable to the virus.
Apparently, families like mine do not matter to the parents of the seven children who want the rules changed for all 600,000 LAUSD students. Included in the plaintiff's court filing is data that they say proves their hypothesis that "a growing body of evidence continues to show that reopening schools for all students in all grades can be safely accomplished." This includes:
- Information from a "report" from an organization pushing schools to reopen claiming that "during a November 2020 surge of COVID-19 cases in the State of Illinois...only 16 schools experienced outbreaks of between 11 and 16 cases each among over 750,000 students in full- or part-time in-person instruction."
- An article in a medical journal reported on "a study of 90,000 students across 56 school districts in North Carolina during the first nine weeks of the school year [where] there were only a few dozen instances of secondary spread in schools"."
- In Florida, a state accused of manipulating its COVID-19 data, "only two percent" of the 1,260,000 students receiving in-person instruction "fell ill with COVID-19". This equates to "only" 25,200 students.
- In Sweden "only 20 out of 103,596 teachers were admitted to the ICU" due to COVID-19.
While the plaintiffs downplay these numbers, the results could have been deadly if one of these students had been one of my daughters and the virus was then spread to my wife. Contrary to the court filing's assertion that children cannot spread the virus to adults, "infected children had as much, or more, coronavirus in their upper respiratory tracts as infected adults." This means "that children, even those without symptoms, could readily spread the infection to others." The mutation of the virus has caused additional concern as younger people seem more affected than they were before.
As noted by the plaintiffs, "appropriate safety precautions adequately protect students and staff". It, therefore, seems odd that the focus of what they seek from the court is to eliminate these very safety measures. They claim that the six-foot distance planned by the district is "arbitrary" and "unlawful." However, the CDC states that "COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period." It is, therefore, recommended that people should "stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces."
In classrooms where mask usage is "universal", the CDC recommends that "all students remain at least 3 feet apart." Unless math has changed under Common Core, six feet would comply with this suggestion. Furthermore, the six-foot minimum distance is still recommended for:
- "Middle school students and high school students...in communities where transmission is high if cohorting is not possible."
- "Between adults in the school building and between adults and students."
- "In common areas, such as school lobbies and auditoriums."
- "When masks can't be worn, such as when eating."
- "During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band practice, sports, or exercise."
- "In community settings outside of the classroom".
The plaintiff's description of the LAUSD COVID-19 testing program as being unable to "survive even rational basis scrutiny" is even more dubious, especially since the district is providing these tests without charge to students and their families along with their staff. The CDC has concluded that COVID-19 testing offers "tremendous added benefits" of providing data and allaying staff and family concerns. While these tests cannot "guarantee or even suggest that all students will be free of COVID-19 when they are physically present at school such that the safety of other students, teachers, and staff and their families will be insured [SIC]", it will have the ability to identify some asymptomatic carriers. This makes testing an important part of the district's mitigation plan.
With parent surveys indicating that "about 37% of [LAUSD] elementary school students...24% for middle school and 16% for high school" will physically return to classrooms, it is clear that the parents of these seven students do not speak for a majority of their peers. The court filing does not even specify how their children will be directly harmed by the social distancing or testing requirements. It does, however, state that a child of one of these parents who is not described as attending an LAUSD school is also "suffering academically and psychologically after nearly a year of 'distance learning' and the associated social isolation." Like the complaints emanating from Nick Melvoin's Speak Up and a previous lawsuit, this group seems to be using the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting school shutdown to further their own "political agenda" of destroying the public education system.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com.