A group of parents – who say their children have been unlawfully harmed by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s back-to-school plan – seeks a court order to force the district to reopen “to the extent possible” in the seven days.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday night, asks the court to prohibit LA Unified from using a six-foot distance standard in classrooms because this effectively prevents the school district “from providing in-person instructions to the extent of. possible”. It also aims to ban the district from requiring students to take regular coronavirus tests as a condition of returning to campus.
The district’s reopening plan, which begins rolling out next week, features a half-time on-campus schedule for elementary school students and supervised online education on campus for middle and high school students, a format which the trial describes as prejudicial and legally inadequate.
“There is no reason why applicants’ children should have to suffer from shorter school days with limited teaching hours and / or two or three days a week on distance learning models on campuses while other similarly located students in California – and even Los County Angeles – enjoy a full in-person learning program five days a week, ”the complaint states. “LAUSD school children and their families suffer irreparable harm every day that their schools remain closed for in-person instruction.”
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The plaintiffs are four parents who in the court file described how their children of different ages have become academically and socially disengaged, suffer from low grades and psychological trauma due to campus closures during more than a year during the pandemic.
The complaint includes the account of a relative, identified by the initials DR, whose youngest son was happy and had good grades. But with the campuses closed, the boy “struggles to connect with other students he only sees through Zoom and gets angry, lashes out, acts disrespectfully, and has no motivation to. do anything other than play video games. He has gained weight, is alone and has expressed suicidal thoughts to both of his parents.
According to health guidelines, LA Unified could have opened for elementary school children as early as Feb. 16 – and earlier for early years if he had sought waivers from the county. Middle and high school students could have returned to school on March 15.
Parents, who have banded together as California Students United, said on their website they can no longer wait and rely on school officials to get back to normal in the second largest system school of the country.
“The LAUSD Board of Directors and Supt. Beutner has no valid legal or health and safety basis to justify its plan to reopen, ”the group said in a statement Thursday.
The parent group appealed to the same lawyers who successfully sued in San Diego County, preventing the state from enforcing guidelines requiring a four-foot distance between offices. A three-foot separation is the currently recommended standard set by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a result of this decision, state officials dropped all distancing requirements. That provision has since been updated again, said Rodger Butler, spokesperson for the California Health and Human Services Agency.
“Currently, state guidelines strongly recommend a distance of at least three feet for students in classrooms, in accordance with updated guidelines recently released by the federal CDC,” Butler said Wednesday.
LA County health officials, which previously required a six-foot separation, have aligned with state and federal guidelines. But they also allowed local district leaders to make their own decisions about whether to go beyond the three feet, as the state does.
The difference between three and six feet is crucial. A distance of three feet essentially allows the return of a typical full class to the typical California classroom. A six-foot separation, on the other hand, logistically requires students to attend classes in person on a staggered, part-time basis. Staggered attendance formats are called hybrid plans because they include both in-person teaching and distance learning during classroom hours from home.
The litigation aims to end mandatory coronavirus testing for students because the tests are not required by health authorities. Students should not be barred from receiving a better school experience on campus simply because their families are unwilling to take a test that health officials do not impose, the lawsuit argues.
The teachers’ union – United Teachers Los Angeles – is not cited as a defendant, but the union is nonetheless a target: the complaint accuses the school system and Supt. Austin Beutner to “adopt the positions of the UTLA” and “to give in to the unreasonable, illegal, unnecessary and politically motivated demands of the UTLA”.
Beutner, who is named as a defendant with LA Unified, did not assign the six-foot standard to a request from the teachers’ union.
Although the district did not provide immediate comment, Beutner defended the district’s security measures on their merits and also if necessary to build the confidence of parents and employees.
“Our challenge is to convince families that schools are safe, not to find ways to keep more children out of classrooms,” Beutner said recently.
The union successfully advocated for COVID vaccines for teachers – as well as enough time to achieve maximum vaccine immunity before returning to campus – which pushed back the potential reopening of elementary campuses for at least six weeks.
The union did not receive an immediate response. President Cecily Myart-Cruz, however, has often acknowledged family difficulties and also said the situation would have been worse if the students had returned to campus prematurely and contributed to the spread of disease and death in their own. family and in low income Latinos. and black communities, who have suffered disproportionately.
Interviews and poll results suggest that there is a diversity of opinion on all sides of the debate across the vast school system. An ongoing survey in the districts shows that parents in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 have decided to keep their children at home in greater numbers than parents in neighborhoods that have suffered less.
Similar to the new lawsuit in Los Angeles, the San Diego County lawsuit, which was sued by a group called Parent Assn., Claimed that local school systems had violated Senate Bill 98, which protects funding for education for the current school year while also specifying that school districts “shall provide in-person instruction to the extent possible”.
In the San Diego trial, Superior Court Judge Cynthia A. Freeland issued a temporary restraining order on March 15 that overturned parts of the state’s guidelines, including the four-foot separation, saying the framework was inappropriately “ selective in its applicability, vague in its terms, and arbitrary in its prescriptions.
A central question in the Los Angeles trial will be whether a different judge in a separate case would be willing to apply Freeland’s legal analysis to LA Unified. Another issue is whether the litigation in Los Angeles could advance fast enough to affect the current school year, which ends on June 11.
“The intention is to lobby the district so that we have a meaningful in-person resolution and options in place before the fall,” the parent group said in an online post.
As part of the rollout of the district’s hybrid plan, 61 primary school campuses and 11 preschool education centers will reopen the week of April 12. Other elementary schools will follow the week of April 19, with middle and high schools the following week. LA Unified has approximately 1,400 schools and 465,000 students enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade 12.
The school system also faces legal challenges to its education plans on other fronts.
In a complaint dated April 1, four parents are seeking damages against the district, the teachers’ union and two of its leaders. The lawsuit also asks the court to order the teachers’ union “to stop preventing LAUSD from safely resuming in-person teaching.” The lawsuit was filed with the support of the Olympia, Wash., Based Freedom Foundation, a group that criticizes teacher unions and works to persuade members to withdraw from paying union dues.
Separately, another group of parents filed a lawsuit in September over the quality of distance learning in the district, claiming in part that students were not receiving enough live instruction online.