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8 to 3: COVID in schools, kids in Afghanistan and other news

A beach is crowded with people in the water, on towels and under umbrellas.
Beachgoers enjoy their Labor Day weekend on Sunday in Hermosa Beach.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

This is the Sept. 6, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, kids and parenting. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

Labor Day used to mark the end of summer, the last weekend for family getaways before the school year started, often on the Tuesday after the holiday. That’s no longer the case, now that most schools start their year in August, largely so they can game the standardized testing schedule (and complete the fall semester before the winter break).

Now, it’s just another long weekend, often spiced up with some workers’ marches to remind us what we’re celebrating.

Sonja Sharp is off. I’m Mitchell Landsberg, substitute host of this week’s truncated, labor-saving newsletter. And what better way to start than with news about the L.A. teachers union? My colleague Howard Blume writes that United Teachers Los Angeles has dropped its demand that eligible students — currently, ages 12 and up — be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. He says it’s a strategic move, not one that reflects a change of heart on the part of the union, which remains concerned about transmissions from unvaccinated students to (presumably vaccinated) teachers.

This isn’t an idle concern. Last week, there were eight coronavirus outbreaks in schools in L.A. County alone.

There’s good news, though. Fewer students and teachers were exposed during those outbreaks than during the previous week. “This most likely reflects improved understanding of who is exposed, and great work by schools working to mitigate exposures,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

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Talking about divorce, prison, abortion and pumpkins ...

Divorces are hard on kids but sometimes necessary. That seems to be the consensus in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which is in the throes of a nasty breakup — one that has been decades in the making. Malibu residents say they contribute a disproportionate share of the district’s revenue but are shorted on educational spending. In Santa Monica, district officials say they’ve come around to the conclusion that the 70-year-old marriage can’t be saved — but are convinced that Malibu wants to shortchange the district when it secedes. It’s a mess, beautifully captured by The Times’ Maria La Ganga.

We hope this doesn’t apply to you, but there may be good news for parents whose teenage children have been convicted of a serious crime in L.A. County and sentenced as adults. Under California’s Proposition 57, children sentenced as adults can ask for resentencing as juveniles — even if they are no longer minors. They would ordinarily face a challenge from prosecutors. But in Los Angeles County, Dist. Atty. George Gascón has directed his attorneys in 12 out of 17 cases not to oppose such resentencing. Of course, not everyone is happy with this leniency, least of all the families of victims.

If it’s Labor Day, that must mean that Halloween is ... not happening for another two months.

 A pumpkin is carved to look like a famous work of art.
Pumpkin art from Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge in 2019 replicates Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

But we’re already starting to see ads and window displays, apparently because we have to get past Halloween before the Christmas ads can start. Anyway, all of that is a long-winded way of saying that The Times sneaked a foot onto the Halloween bandwagon with this guide to fall events for plant lovers, including hayrides and pumpkin carving. Happy Thanksgiving!

More news from around California and beyond

An estimated 24 or more children from the Sacramento area are trapped in Afghanistan, where they went to visit family over summer vacation. Sacramento Bee

There’s a substitute teacher shortage in California, driven by an overall teacher shortage and, now, teacher absences because of COVID. Some subs say low pay is at the root of the problem. San Francisco Chronicle

What kind of leader should replace Austin Beutner as L.A. Unified School District superintendent? (“A rare person,” one professor opines.) EdSource

Larry Elder, who could become California governor if voters recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, says sex education has “no role in schools at all.” Modesto Bee

Here are six strategies experts recommend to create a COVID-safe classroom. KQED Mind/Shift

A new book in the “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” series looks at “100 real-life examples of Black women whose stories should be seen, centered and celebrated, but have not been.” Writer and mom Adiba Nelson adds: “My daughter got the message loud and clear.” Washington Post

In Britain, young kids aren’t required to wear masks in school, and most don’t. New York Times

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