Freedom Foundation

Judge’s Ruling Underestimates the Students’ Suffering, Overestimates UTLA’s Integrity

Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel’s decision on Thursday to deny a temporary restraining order against United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) in a personal injury lawsuit designed to get local kids back into the classroom would have made perfect sense under normal circumstances.

But the distance-learning requirements adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t a normal circumstance, and UTLA isn’t a normal defendant.

In issuing her ruling, Judge Strobel claimed there was no real need for a TRO since the county’s schools are scheduled to open on Monday and teachers will be there.

A couple of problems.

First, the schools won’t be opening up for anything resembling a normal education experience.

According to the LA Times:

At the elementary level, students would attend five days a week in either a morning or early-afternoon session. The staggered schedule would allow for smaller classes, in keeping with state recommendations to keep students at least six feet apart. Middle and high schools would resume with even starker changes. Students would attend two days a week on a staggered schedule. But instead of moving from class to class, students would remain in their advisory classroom — similar to a homeroom base — for the full day.

From their advisory class, students would carry out distance learning essentially as they are doing now; they would be trading online-from-home for online-from-a-classroom under the supervision of a teacher. Students would then “move” from class to class online — as they are doing now at home. Advisory teachers would have their own schedule of classes — which they would conduct from school, but not necessarily to the students in front of them. To avoid mutual distraction, students would be provided with noise-canceling headsets.

During one period a day the headsets would come off, and the teacher and students would work together on assignments and activities that are not part of the core academic work. These activities would include a focus on students’ social and emotional well-being.

For the most part, however, secondary students will not have in-person instruction even when they are on campus. (Emphasis added.)

Sounds about as conducive to learning as what you’d find in any large, impersonal penal institution. But wait, it gets worse.

According to the agreement, here’s what recess will look like:

“Students may not engage in any play that involves touching, tagging, bumping or approaching another student closer than six feet. At this time, playground equipment will be off-limits to students.”

And then there’s this:

 “Students bringing toys or objects to the school to share will have them immediately confiscated and quarantined for a week before being returned.”

Just to restate the obvious, there are two components to school — learning and socialization. For the past year, neither of these goals has been met while students have cowered at home in front of a laptop screen. And nothing in the hybrid plan will make any great difference.

Beyond that, Strobel’s decision was also the wrong one because it assumes UTLA leaders will make a good faith effort to ensure teachers are in the classroom on Monday.

They won’t.

If the union was only concerned about student and teacher safety, it could have complied with guidelines set forth by the federal Centers for Disease Control last July and opened more or less normally in the fall. Unfortunately, the pandemic has presented UTLA and its president, Cecily-Myart Cruz, with bargaining leverage it didn’t have before — even with the threat of a strike.

Not only does the union want financial considerations, but its leaders have also floated demands that have nothing to do with wages, benefits or working conditions before teachers will return to the classroom. These include such radical leftist ideals as:

  • defunding law enforcement;
  • creation of a single-payer healthcare system;
  • full funding for California’s homeless population;
  • a new set of programs to address the state’s “systemic racism” problem;
  • elimination of publicly funded, privately operated charter schools; and, of course;
  • a sweeping array of new taxes on the state’s wealthy to pay for it all.

Again, Judge Strobel’s response might have been the correct one if there were no pandemic, no urgency to address youngsters currently suffering under the existing arrangement and no union determined to exploit the crisis and hold thousands of students hostage to its decidedly political agenda.

Unfortunately, we have all of the above.