Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District have overwhelmingly approved a labor agreement outlining distance-learning procedures for the fall semester, officials have announced.
"This agreement is what we need in this time of crisis to strengthen teaching and learning and expand the social-emotional supports our students need," UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said after the announcement that 95% of the 15,726 ballots cast approved the agreement Friday.
"Crisis distance learning is not ideal, but it is a temporary and necessary solution to keep our communities safe."
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The agreement had been approved earlier by the LAUSD Board of Education. It will remain in effect through Dec. 31 or until students are back on campuses for regular instruction.
When the agreement was approved this week by the Board of Education, members conceded the distance-learning plans aren't perfect, but they marked an improvement over the online learning that was implemented on the fly in March when the pandemic erupted.
Board member George McKenna said he has "no illusions the students will be as well-served ... with distance-learning as they would be if they could actually be in a classroom with a teacher." He added, "All we can do is try to keep our children safe and as well-educated as we can."
The LAUSD school year will begin next week, with students attending primarily orientation sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and attendance taken those days. Monday will be a teacher/staff orientation and planning day.
The first day of actual instruction is Thursday.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said the work plan for the 2020-21 school year was created by bringing together students and families, teachers and staff, school leaders, labor partners and community organizations that met with health experts, reviewed ideas from other school districts and coordinated with state and local health and education authorities.
"The goal is to have as much teacher-led interaction with students as possible," Beutner said, noting that revamped distanced-learning -- mostly online -- "will have more structure and standards and increased interaction between teachers and students."
Schools will provide one-on-one support both in person and online, for students who need it most, he said. A Step Up Tutoring program will utilize volunteers from across the country -- screened individuals who are trained students or college graduates -- to provide K-8 students with their assistance outside of the regular school day.
Highlights of the tentative agreement between the district and teachers include: an average school day from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.; targeted small group instruction; daily attendance; opportunities for small group and independent student work; social emotional support; instructional training; flexibility for teachers to work on campus or from home; and office hours for students and families to connect with teachers.
"When LAUSD campuses closed in March, educators, parents and students had to adapt to an emergency moment, and over just a few days," UTLA Bargaining Co-Chair Arlene Inouye said earlier.
"This time, it was important to think through the challenges and to incorporate feedback from that experience -- using information from a parent and member survey and feedback from members -- which is reflected in this final agreement."
LAUSD also will continue to ensure that every student has a device and internet connection at home, Beutner said.
"The first few days of school will be spent continuing to train teachers and giving them time to plan together for the start of instruction. We'll also use that time to make sure students are connected with their school, have a chance to meet their teachers and have the devices and internet access and the appropriate textbooks and instructional materials."
Beutner promised that students at all levels would have "consistent schedules" with clear sets of expectations for teachers, students and families. Resource guides and checklists will be included with instructional materials.
Teachers and others staff members who might be on campus will be provided with childcare.
"In order to support all who work in schools, we will be providing childcare at schools for those who are working at school sites," Beutner said, noting that schools are being cleaned and supplied with personal protective equipment for those workers and their children -- practices that will continue once all students are able to come back to the classroom.