"Since the shutdown began, Plaintiff A.S.'s son's opportunities for physical exercise have also been restricted, and as a result he has gained 30 pounds. This unhealthy weight has caused Plaintiff A.S.'s son other health problems, such as difficulty breathing."
- Freedom Foundation, Olympia, Washington
For months, Nick Melvoin's Speak Up and other groups have been demanding that the LAUSD ignore the risks of COVID-19 and reopen school campuses. While these groups claimed that they were speaking for a majority of parents, the Los Angeles Times reports that when parents were asked about their plans "about 37% of [LAUSD] elementary school students would return, along with 24% for middle school and 16% for high school." Those numbers do not include parents who have not yet responded to the district's survey, the majority of whom "are projected to remain in remote instruction." Clearly, Speak Up and their compatriots had not spoken to enough parents beyond the charter school families that they represent.
Speak Up's executive director, Katie Braude, blames the overwhelming number of parents who are keeping their students home on "relentless negative messaging." This statement disregards the experience of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities who have been hit much harder by the pandemic than Braude's supporters on the West Side. Seeing family members and friends die of COVID-19 tends to give parents a different view of the risks that are involved in sending children back to LAUSD campuses.
The Freedom Foundation is another group ignoring the majority of parents who have decided that distance learning is currently the best choice for their families. Like Speak Up, the group falsely claims that "a growing number of LAUSD parents of color have begun publicly calling for schools to re-open for families who want and need in-person learning options." In spite of the fact that the LAUSD is scheduled to begin reopening campuses this month, the Freedom Foundation found four parents, some of whose children do not even attend LAUSD schools, to sue the school district to force a return to in-person instruction. The lawsuit also seeks to prevent UTLA from negotiating with the district to ensure safe working conditions for teachers. This falls in line with the group's mission of reversing "the stranglehold government unions have on our state and local policymaking."
Opposing this lawsuit is Parents Supporting Teachers (PST), a public education advocacy group in Los Angeles that has over 25,000 followers. It is the only organically created group of this size exclusively dedicated to parent communication and education support in the LAUSD. In response to the claims made by the Freedom Foundation, PST released the following statement:
As a group dedicated to supporting and uplifting public education, we at Parents Supporting Teachers are disheartened to see these latest lawsuits against LAUSD, which serve no purpose other than taking even more money from our critically underfunded public schools. The entire country has suffered from Covid-19, and to try to place blame on either a school district or a labor union is both an indication of privilege and a complete dismissal of the trauma communities of color have endured over the past year. Our schools have been open for the past year, and they will physically open this month in a hybrid manner that puts safety first. The real question is, why weren't these billionaire-funded private groups asking for equity and enrichment for high-needs kids over the past year while we were in distanced learning?
While students throughout the district have struggled through a worldwide crisis, these parents are attempting to have LAUSD students finance their children's private education. If their efforts are successful, even less money will be available to help children return to school and for students with disabilities to get the assistance they need to make up for the regression that these children have experienced.
The organization behind the suit did not even bother to do their research. One of the harms that they claim were inflicted upon the children of the district was the inability to access federal free and reduced-price lunch programs. In reality, the LAUSD has operated a Grab and Go food program that has provided needed meals not only to students but to all members of the community.
Despite the fact that over 565,000 Americans have died during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Freedom Foundation still thinks that "the need to shut down schools was unclear in March 2020". However, as the lawsuit notes, the "LAUSD owes its students, including Plaintiffs' children, a duty to make decisions and act in their best interests". This required the district to close campuses to conform to safer at home orders and protect both students and the community. As PST notes, our teachers ensured that classes resumed as quickly as possible and have worked tirelessly to ensure that children continued to learn. While distance learning is not what anyone wanted to do, it was the best that could be provided given the circumstances. Groups like Speak Up and the Freedom Foundation should not be able to use these conditions to drive their agenda of privatizing public education and eliminating unions.
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. Opinions are his own.