Essential California Week in Review: School showdown

A blue banner offering COVID-19 tests is attached to a fence
Playa Vista Elementary School, like others across most of the state, is clear to reopen, but the timetable for doing so will depend on local factors.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Feb. 20.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

Schools showdown. Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have been at odds on plans to reopen schools, with Newsom — who has been reluctant to promise vaccinations for teachers — criticizing a $6.6-billion legislative proposal to open elementary campuses in April. But on Friday, he said the state will begin earmarking 10% of its weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses for educators in an effort to jump-start reopening.

A brighter spring? Coronavirus infections in California have plummeted to pre-Thanksgiving levels, bringing renewed optimism that a wider reopening of the still-shackled economy may be just around the corner. Still, Latino residents of L.A. County continue to suffer disproportionate devastation.

Vaccine setbacks. Even as new vaccination sites open, California continues to struggle with data and supply problems. Volume has risen, but patients seeking second doses are being prioritized over those who need their first. And winter storms across the U.S. delayed dose shipments, forcing L.A. to postpone appointments and the Disneyland site to close temporarily.

State stimulus. Newsom and legislative leaders announced Wednesday that they have agreed to provide low-income Californians a $600 payment — part of a $9.6-billion pandemic recovery package that also includes $2.1 billion in grants for small businesses.

School police overhaul. The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday approved a plan that cuts a third of school police officers, bans the use of pepper spray on students and diverts funds from the department to improve the education of Black students.

LAPD internal investigation. Allegations that officers circulated a mock valentine with a photo of George Floyd and the caption “You take my breath away” have drawn strong condemnation, including from Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor and Floyd’s family. The LAPD has launched an internal investigation.

Going to court. Democrats succeeded in unraveling much of the Trump agenda through a California-led deluge of lawsuits. But they now face a sobering reality: Their courtroom playbook is about to be turned against them by Republicans.

Impeachment fallout. Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) faces an attempt to censure him at the California GOP convention this weekend for his vote to impeach Donald Trump. He is the latest Republican elected official to draw criticism from a state party over disloyalty to the former president.

Texas on ice. After a devastating winter storm, millions of people in Texas remain without access to water. Power has largely been restored, but outages linger, highlighting a power system unprepared for climate change. The problems extend far beyond Texas across the South, where pipes burst by record-low temperatures have left a shortage of clean drinking water.

Immigration reform. President Biden made official on Thursday his aggressive opening salvo to reform a broken U.S. immigration system — an ambitious bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States without legal status. The administration also directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on “significant threats,” as Biden’s order for a 100-day pause on most deportations remains hampered by court rulings.

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1. “Once by the Pacific” by Robert Frost. American Poems

2. After receiving a lowball appraisal, a Bay Area Black couple had a white friend pose as the owner for a second appraisal of their home. ABC 7

3. One man’s story of how he survived a bear attack in California’s Trinity Alps. SFGATE

4. How one journalist experienced the search for two kidnapped children. KQED

5. What happens when a city’s largest employer goes “work from anywhere”? Bloomberg CityLab

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

The California roots of the fight over the term “illegal alien.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it would use inclusive language, including dropping the use of “illegal alien,” a term with a fraught history in California. Los Angeles Times


Texas storms, California heat waves and “vulnerable” utilities. Power failures have cast a spotlight on whether energy companies and regulators are doing enough to prepare for climate change and natural disasters. New York Times

From the archives: “The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies.” A 2016 Guardian story follows up with two American-raised young adults whose parents were arrested in 2010 as deep-cover Russian spies. The Guardian

Poem of the week: “The Cabbages of Chekhov” by Robert Bly. Writer’s Almanac

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Laura Blasey for all her help on the Saturday edition.)