LOS ANGLES – When Los Angeles parent Cynthia Rojas heard that federal experts and local health authorities said elementary campuses could reopen, she was ecstatic. But then reality hit her: Campuses in the L.A. Unified School District would not reopen anytime soon.
That disappointment became a defining moment that brought her and other parents to a protest Monday outside the Federal Building in West Los Angeles — part of the growing momentum in some parts of Los Angeles, including the Westside, to reopen public schools.
The United Teachers Los Angeles union is resisting this push, which it says is in part rooted in white privilege. Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner says coronavirus infection rates in neighborhoods served by the district, including South Los Angeles, remain too high and he supports vaccinations for school staff, which the union is demanding.
Beutner said Monday that the average county coronavirus rate that permits elementary schools to reopen is misleading. The county "spans more than 4,000 square miles and communities with vastly different family circumstances where COVID has had vastly different impacts," he said.
Parents such as Rojas simply want the option for their children to return to class.
"For a year now, they've been telling us we will open schools when they are safe," Rojas said during Monday's demonstration, which drew more than 200 parents and students from more than 20 different schools. Rojas was paying attention when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was possible to reopen K-12 campuses safely — even with significant spread of the coronavirus, even without a vaccine for school staff. And she got really excited when L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced that the county had met the threshold reopening elementary campuses.
"I was so excited. I mean, I couldn't even sleep that night," Rojas said.
While some school systems quickly ramped up, leaders of L.A. Unified and the union are flying a caution flag: They want further reductions in infection rates and vaccines for school staff.
Rojas watches the weekly updates from Beutner.
"And so, the L.A. County Health Department gave them the clear. And then, LAUSD and UTLA said: 'Oh no, but it's still not safe.' And I think that was a big turning point for a lot of us parents."