In response to the shifting plans for a return to in-person learning set forth by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) Coalition has issued an open letter urging LAUSD to center the voices of low-income students of color and their families in reopening, in order to ensure equity as plans take shape for Spring 2021 and beyond.
The letter further urges LAUSD to prioritize equity in all elements of the reopening process including using the Student Equity Need Index (SENI) to allocate new state and federal funds to the highest-needs schools, by using all available resources (including the assistance of the coalition itself) to reach the thousands of “missing students” who come disproportionately from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities.
“The pandemic badly widened the longstanding gaps in equity that disproportionately impact our Black and Brown students, but we have a better chance to close those gaps meaningfully than ever before,” said Norma Rodriguez, director of Education Programs & Policy, United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “The CLASS Coalition offers expertise and engagement with populations who experienced the lion’s share of the health and economic trauma brought on by the pandemic. The interest of our most vulnerable students should be at the forefront of decisions made by the school board as LAUSD returns to in-person learning.”
“COVID hit our communities hard,” said Isabel Martinez, Promesa Boyle Heights, parent leader. “Every single student and everyone who helps them succeed, from janitors, to teachers, to caregivers, must be included in conversations and decisions if we’re going to make our schools safe. As a mother of an incoming High School freshman, I’m weighing my fear of the unknown against my hope that working together, we will provide students with the adequate resources to succeed.”
“We don’t want to go back to normal, because we have seen that normal wasn’t working,” said Azucena Hernandez, Promesa Boyle Heights, co-director of community transformation. “Promesa Boyle Heights stands with parents, teachers and students as they navigate school reopening and continued virtual learning. As part of the CLASS Coalition, we urge LAUSD to center the voices of those most impacted at the forefront for short- and long-term learning recovery plans. Let’s take into account the social-emotional needs of students and their families by hearing directly from them what quality learning and trauma informed care looks like, and let’s make restorative and equitable changes to move towards healing and innovative recovery as a school district.”
“This is a missed opportunity to ensure that our students—especially the thousands who have not been engaging during distance learning—can be supported to recover from the lost time,” said Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles member Marisa Crabtree, a high school English teacher.
“I wish that the district would have engaged students more in the process and come up with plans that work for us and our families. I won’t be going back in person this year,” said Marie, a senior at Downtown Magnets High School and member of United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program. She cites the risk of exposure taking public transportation for her commute and mindfulness with taking precautions around her parents’ jobs as nurses. “The district should create an open community space like the community circles at my school where students can address going back to school, not a Zoom where only one person is talking at us, but a conversation between the district and students where we are both exchanging ideas.”
Established in 2013, Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) is a collaborative of parent, student, educator, community-based and civil rights organizations dedicated to ensuring that historically underserved students receive an equitable education through advocacy and community engagement.
The coalition’s membership includes the following organizations: Alliance for a Better Community, CARECEN, Center for Powerful Public Schools, Community Coalition, Educators for Excellence, Families in Schools, InnerCity Struggle, MALDEF, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Promesa Boyle Heights, TeachPlus, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and United Way’s Young Civic Leaders. For more information, visit https://www.unitedwayla.org/en/our-work/education/close-the-gap/
The CLASS letter reads:
To the L.A. Unified Board of Education and Superintendent Austin Beutner:
We are the Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS) Coalition, made up of parent, student, educator, community-based and civil rights organizations who share a dedication to ensuring that all students in Los Angeles Unified School District receive an equitable, high-quality public education. Our coalition of advocates of color, comprising 12 core organizations, represents over 150,000 BIPOC families and students in the Los Angeles region.
The pandemic exacerbated the inequities faced by our most vulnerable communities and deepened gaps in learning opportunities. We applaud the efforts taken to address the myriad challenges, many rooted in those inequities, that a safe return to school for LAUSD’s 600,000 students and their families must face. However, we have worked hard to understand exactly what the families we represent need for a safe return to school, and we write to share our coalition’s concerns about that return.
We cannot afford to replicate further inequity with this reopening. We urge you to prioritize meaningful community engagement with those families most impacted during the pandemic in order to identify concrete solutions that center equity. Especially for families facing intersectional challenges, we must directly address the trauma and learning recovery for students to make the return to school as transformative and free of harm as possible.
Throughout the pandemic, two vastly different stories and realities have emerged within the district. In one, families with resources and privileges manage their children’s educational journeys and mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic largely from being able to live in areas with lower rates of infection and death. In another reality, disproportionately BIPOC families are pushed to their limits by economic, housing, job, and food instability while they struggle to support their students through distance learning.
The statewide vulnerability & recovery index created by Advancement Project California highlights the disparities between communities within Los Angeles county. In the communities the CLASS Coalition represents, students juggle classwork hampered by limited physical spaces to work in their homes, often spotty broadband, the need to care for younger siblings, and even while taking on the role of provider in their homes after family members get laid off. They live with the traumas of losing loved ones and the ever-present fear that family members, forced to continue working as essential and front line workers, will fall ill.
Given these unequal realities, we urge you to:
• Center social-emotional learning supports in equity, especially for BIPOC, low-income, English language learning, foster, and homeless youth. Work with us to equip teachers and staff with the resources they need to manage the trauma that students and families have experienced.
• Create informational awareness on the effectiveness of vaccines by partnering with the CLASS Coalition and other educational partners and support increased equitable access to vaccination.
• Continue to push for equity in the budgeting process, as lifted up by the Equity Alliance, by centering new funding on the Student Equity Need Index. Equitable budgeting of the reopening of schools and focusing new state and federal funds on the highest-needs school will offset long standing inequities.
• Help high-need schools recruit staff members with resources and flexibility so that critical positions don’t go unfilled, delaying support for students and families.
• Solicit ample community input for short- and long-term learning recovery plans, particularly from educators, parents and students.
• Center student voices, unacceptably left out of the last year’s distance learning conversations, to shape the return to school.
• Plan and deliver targeted, proactive outreach to the unengaged “missing students” with whom schools and districts have yet to successfully connect throughout the last year. We want to help you create strategies to reach these students.
We are currently learning what parents and students will need to confidently return to school through focus groups and surveys. We are eager to partner on district-wide shifts to center the voices of BIPOC students and families. Ultimately, our students are the leaders our community needs to build transformative powerful education systems and a more equitable and racially just future. We look forward to meeting with you. Thank you.
The members of the CLASS Coalition