L.A. Unified Schools mask mandate to be lifted next week
The indoor masking requirement for students and staff will be lifted next Wednesday in the Los Angeles Unified School District, officials announced.
In reaching an agreement, the teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, dropped its demand that masks remain in place until a particular percentage of students and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The union had originally called for a 75% threshold, which would have been difficult to achieve on elementary campuses. County health officials recently estimated that 29% of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully immunized.
The agreement also includes a commitment to keep in place the required weekly coronavirus tests for all staff and students, which cost around $5 million a week, until the end of the school year.
However, the union agreed to reevaluate the testing plan in mid-April and mid-May, according to the agreement.
“I strongly support ending the indoor mask requirement and am committed to continuing to maintain our science-based approach to COVID-19 safety and protocols,” the superintendent said. Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement. “I want to personally thank our students, staff and families for their support and patience. We know that some members of our school and office communities will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please consider your situation and do what is best for you or your child. Now that this important issue is behind us, it is time to focus on the full academic potential of each student.
The question of how long to retain the mask mandate has been a difficult one, with parents on either side of the issue having strong opinions. The vast majority of the county’s 80 school systems have either moved to optional masking or have a timeline to do so.
While allowing optional masking, county health officials “strongly recommend” the continued use of masks in schools. They also said they fully support decisions made by individual school systems on whether or not to keep the requirement.
Carvalho had said he was ready to make the transition to optional masking, but the district had pledged to negotiate with the teachers’ union.
Throughout the pandemic, the teachers’ union has pushed for safety protocols that have been among the strictest in the country – and generally district leaders have agreed.
Advocates of the approach said it has kept schools safe during the pandemic, possibly preventing illness and death, and averting labor disputes.
Critics said the measures have sometimes caused more harm than benefit to students. They cite an online learning plan that required less live online instruction than other major California school systems, a more gradual reopening of campuses and, most recently, a mask mandate that has remained in place longer. as required by health officials.
It’s time to deal with “a pandemic of learning loss,” parent Gabbie Metheny wrote in an email Friday to district and union leaders, urging them to end the mask mandate.
“We may not have herd immunity, but we have incredible immunity as a community,” wrote Metheny, who has two children at Bushnell Way Elementary School in Montecito Heights. “We have vaccines, we have rapid antigen tests, we have CVS giving out antiviral pills to people who test positive.”
She added: “Parents can still send their children to school with masks, if they wish! But it’s time to let parents and children make that choice for themselves.
Evelyn Aleman, who organized a group of Spanish-speaking Latino parents to make their case, saw the mask decision differently.
“Our parents hoped the mask mandate would stay in place until the end of the school year,” Aleman said. “That wasn’t too much to ask, given the Latino community’s ongoing challenges with COVID. Although Latino children make up 74% of LA Unified’s student population, we believe that by changing its mandate, the district is trying to appease a much smaller, but stronger group of parent voices. In doing so, it jeopardizes the well-being of our community.
More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers who responded to a union survey this week wanted to continue the indoor mask mandate.
The tally was 58% for keeping the requirement and 42% for ending it, according to an update the union sent to members Thursday morning.
The survey took place on March 13 and 14 and more than 18,500 union members participated. The union has more than 30,000 members, according to recent figures, and represents nurses, counselors and librarians as well as teachers.