Reopening Update: UTLA Tries To Outscience the CDC

By Brandon Ristoff
March 25, 2021

This week, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) members have approved their reopening deal with LAUSD, which allows some elementary schools to reopen with a hybrid format as early as April 12. Middle and high schools will have to wait longer and would return to school in a glorified study hall format. While I have already discussed many of the reopening deal’s flaws, the general theme from the approved deal is that the UTLA are incredibly selective about when to follow the CDC and other experts recommendations. 

This comes as the California Department of Public Health’s released their updated Blueprint for a Safer Economy on Tuesday, noting that fifty out of fifty-eight counties have reached the red tier or lower. Eleven counties are now in the orange tier or lower, including San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. Twelve counties might be moving to the red tier next week, including Los Angeles and Orange counties.

When the CDC says people should wear masks, UTLA is all on board. But when the CDC says schools should reopen even if vaccines are not required for reopening, UTLA says students have to wait until every staff member can get the vaccine. Another recent example recently was the CDC’s new recommendation of changing the amount needed for social distancing from six feet to three feet. For proponents of in-person learning, this allows four times more students to come into the classroom and reduce the need for hybrid learning alternatives, and makes it easier for a five day a week in-person model. This proposal was also approved by the state of California. UTLA complained saying it “erodes school safety guidelines” even though the CDC and the state of California are the ones who decide school safety, not UTLA.

The new CDC recommendations and the UTLA complaints all lead back to an important question of balancing safety and practicality.

I could propose every child should get a rapid test every hour, wear N95 masks and gloves, expand the social distancing rule to 12 feet, and require every student to be in a human hamster ball, and that would technically be considered a safe reopening. But no one would approve of my silly idea because the plan is impractical, too expensive, and all of the additional add-ons I proposed will not net any sort of benefit of safety or learning for the students. Of course, every teacher and parent wants their kids to be safe during the pandemic, and some basic precautions are understandable. So the key is to find the balance between safety and practicality. 

Regardless of one’s personal opinion of the CDC’s current recommendations, it is clear that the UTLA and many other teachers’ unions are going unnecessarily above and beyond the needs for reopening. California still remains in last on school reopenings, according to Burbio.

As more of this good news keeps coming this March 2021, UTLA are going back to March 2020, preaching fear instead of facts. UTLA still plans on going back in the middle of April in a hybrid format for elementary schools, even though at that point Los Angeles has been out of the purple tier for a month, and it has been two months since the Los Angeles Department of Public Health allowed for schools to reopen. 

With some Los Angeles private schools now starting to reopen, parents must figure out if UTLA teachers are really the best to teach their kids about science.

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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

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