This week Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest school district, started online classes for more than 600,000 students. LAUSD and the teachers’ union, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), recently agreed on new distance learning guidelines intended to provide more consistent, live interactions or synchronous instruction between teachers and students. The new agreement is an effort to keep students, faculty, and staff safe. The agreement also attempts to address the failures of last spring when LAUSD decided to eliminate in-person classes without a plan to ensure that all students had access to the tools necessary to make remote learning successful for all students.
Unfortunately, the new agreement doesn’t adequately address the issues that negatively impacted students who did not have access to reliable high-speed internet, laptops, and tablets. These students, who were overwhelmingly African American and Latinx, were negatively impacted because they live in households where the parents and adult caregivers were also “essential workers.” As a result, many of them could not stay home to supervise their children during the day, and their wages were insufficient to provide them with the “luxury” of hiring someone to watch over their children.
The result has been disastrous for our students and their families. Last year only 20% of Black students in L.A. were at grade level, and 30% met state standards in math. This past spring, as schools shut down and classes moved online, LAUSD data shows us that while more than 75% of White students logged in and participated, Black and Hispanic students were much less likely to log in and join. If we don’t take additional aggressive actions, we will continue to witness how the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities long after an effective vaccine becomes available.
We cannot forget about our most vulnerable students on Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Teaching students with disabilities is complicated enough without the added challenges of a pandemic and remote learning. Last spring it was reported that regular physical, occupational, speech or behavior learning sessions were to be done online, but were slow to resume even after general classes had started up again. We must ensure all students have access quality education services and that their assessments and evaluations continue while still progressing toward their goals.
It is paramount that LAUSD articulates how it will support Black student learning during this pandemic, and eventually eliminate these disparities. In this regard, we applaud the LAUSD School Board for recently voting to cut the district’s school police budget by $25 million and use that funding “to support African American student achievement.” This reallocation should be just the beginning of the process that is long overdue. Our City, the 50,000 African American students, and all of the students and families in L.A. Unified deserve nothing less.