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LA school district, teachers reach tentative deal for more predictable remote learning schedules for students

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Even though they will be at home, Los Angeles students will have a predictable learning schedule that resembles a regular school day when the fall semester starts in two weeks, under a tentative agreement over rules for instruction reached by teachers and the district.

The official school day would last from 9 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. Classroom teachers are expected to work an average of six hours per day, which means that some work is expected to take place outside of the set schedule.

The school day would include daily live online interaction, small group work and independent work as well as time to focus on the social and emotional needs of students. There is also time for office hours, during which students and families could connect with teachers.

Schools would have the option to develop alternative schedules through a district waiver process. It was not immediately clear how much latitude a waiver would allow.

The pact would resolve a major hurdle that was creating uncertainty among parents and teachers alike as the Aug. 18 start of the school year quickly approaches. The union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has said it will put the agreement to a vote of its membership, which is expected to take place next week. The deal also would need the approval of the Board of Education.

The school board is scheduled to meet Tuesday. A major item on that agenda is whether the board will put a $7 billion school facilities bond before voters in November. Officials have said the bond would help replenish funds spent in response to the pandemic as well as to meet other needs.

The six-page agreement with teachers also would limit a session of screen time for preschoolers to no more than 45 minutes.

The pact also establishes work expectations for nonteaching union members such as counselors, who were paid their full-time salaries in the spring even though their duties were vague, leaving adrift some students and families for whom they provided vital services. After campuses closed, there were numerous problems serving students with disabilities and students who needed special support because they are learning to speak English.

The deal, which is called a side-letter agreement, specifies that nonteaching union members -- who also include nurses and librarians -- will work the hours that had been expected of them prior to the campus shutdown. Principals appear to have some latitude in assigning nonteachers duties when they cannot perform their regular tasks or cannot perform them in the usual way.

It had appeared as though an agreement on teaching rules would be reached late Friday afternoon, but the two sides had trouble ironing out final details. In general, the district was pushing for a longer school day than the union, which favored more flexibility. The gap between the two proposals was not vast but district officials were evidently asserting that the differential would prove important over time.

The new schedule will be considerably more structured than in March, when school districts across California had to almost instantly convert from on-campus instruction to distance learning. At that time, there were no fixed requirements for what teachers would have to do across the nation's second-largest school system, although there were some expectations at individual schools.

The district and the union weathered criticism when they agreed in April to require only 20 hours of work per week from teachers. The format of instruction was essentially unspecified to give teachers and students maximum flexibility, emphasizing compassion over rigor. Many teachers said that the flexibility allowed them to work more effectively.

 

Some parents, however, complained of limited contact with teachers, and student engagement was disappointing, especially among Black and Latino students and among students who were part of low-income families. Some teachers reported a decline in student effort after the district did away with failing grades and stipulated that no student would receive a final grade lower than what it was when campuses shut down.

A group of parents last week threatened to sue the district if the learning environment did not improve considerably.

Concerns over academic progress spurred state lawmakers to insert instructional requirements into the budget bill, requiring teachers to take online attendance and document student learning. The rules reimposed the state's minimum daily instructional minutes of 180 for kindergarten, 230 minutes for grades 1 through 3, and 240 minutes for grades 4 through 12.

Before the weekend, the union also had objected to a proposal that would have required teachers to work online from their empty classrooms. The district dropped that demand on Wednesday, according to the union.

In addition the district has agreed to a union demand to suspend annual performance evaluations of tenured teachers for the soon-to-begin academic year. The union also achieved other concessions in terms of supervision and evaluation, citing the unusual circumstances of the pandemic. Administrators, for example, must give notice before joining virtual courses and web-conferencing sessions. And live instruction cannot be recorded by the district without prior notice and the consent of the instructor.

Through early Monday morning, district officials declined to discuss negotiations. In recent interviews, however, L.A. schools Superintendent Austin Beutner has said that he and union leaders shared common cause in wanting instruction to be effective and to be carried out safely.

Under orders by Gov. Gavin Newsom, public and private schools located in counties on the state's "watch list" cannot reopen for the start of school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Campuses could potentially reopen once virus transmission recedes and stabilizes for 14 days. Elementary schools can petition to reopen sooner.

The agreement would be in effect through December or until campuses reopen. Negotiations are continuing over how things would work when campuses are allowed to reopen.

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