When the Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Monday that it will not resume any in-person instruction this fall, it was a political victory for teachers and a defeat for families, science and opportunity for all.
The teachers’ union opposed reopening schools amid the continuing rise in Covid-19 cases locally, and lobbied for an early resolution to eliminate uncertainty.
Individual teachers were adamant about not taking risks. “As a teacher of 20 years, I can tell you there is NO WAY I would agree to go back to the classroom this year without hospital-grade PPE,” one wrote on the NextDoor social media site.
“I’ve taught for 15 years,” wrote another. “I catch every cold, sniffle and cough that enters my room. Call me selfish but I’m not willing to die so we can be less inconvenienced.”
Parents weren’t thrilled, however. “The prospect of another few months, an additional semester or, God forbid, a full year of studying from home is enough to make many parents, and their kids, burst into tears,” wrote Kerry Cavanaugh, a Los Angeles Times editorial writer with two kids in district schools. Political leaders, she complained, “have dedicated far more energy in reopening restaurants, bars and tattoo parlors than in figuring out how to safely educate the next generation. Schools are essential but they’ve been treated like optional services.”
Cavanaugh’s kids aren’t typical. Most L.A. public-school students are poor (nearly 80 percent qualify for free lunches) and Latino (73 percent). Although most aren’t themselves immigrants, about one in five is still learning English. Assuming parents still have jobs, they are likely to be essential workers who have to leave the house every day.
These students and their parents are not, in other words, the people debating and deciding whether schools should resume in-person instruction. They have no voice in the discussion. Yet they bear the brunt of the burden—and provide a central justification for public schools. Tax-funded education is supposed to give every child a chance to learn, regardless of income, to the economic and civic benefit of the general public.
Coronavirus policy in many places is being made by a coalition of Karens and activists who have less skin in the game than average people, much less the disadvantaged.