Essential California: Student activists fight for more COVID-19 safety measures at school

A student stands in front of the Redondo Union High School marquee with a COVID-19 safety message on it.
Michael Lee-Chang, a senior at Redondo Union High, has been calling for increased coronavirus safety measures at the school, including KN95 masks for students and staff and socially distanced desks.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Jan. 28, and I’m your guest host, Sarah Parvini. I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Students in California are joining in a new chapter of activism since their return from winter break: speaking out against what they see as lax campus safety measures amid the coronavirus surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant. They’ve made themselves heard during school board meetings, fired up social media accounts, and organized boycotts, petitions and walkouts — but some are also facing criticism.

As my colleague Melissa Gomez reports, the student activists have different styles but share a desire to make their schools as safe as they can.

In recent weeks, students in Boston, Chicago and New York mobilized to demand their schools increase safety measures, including providing medical-grade masks, conducting more testing and offering a remote learning option at least until the surge in coronavirus cases substantially falls.


School administrators say classrooms remain safe.

The state requires people on campus to wear a mask indoors and promotes layers of protection, including upgraded air filters and more campus cleaning. Yet even as infection rates have begun to decline since school resumed three weeks ago, educators are struggling to keep campus doors open amid high absentee rates among teachers and students, staff shortages and limited supplies of testing and masks.

“These guidelines are fine, but what’s the point if they’re not being enforced?” one student said at a school board meeting in Redondo Beach. “I’m seeing eight through 18 students missing from each of my classes right now, and most because they’re out from COVID, but some because they’re not comfortable coming back dealing with the current problem.”

[Read the story: “As student activists fight for COVID safety measures at schools, some face criticism” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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California promised ‘social equity’ after legalizing pot, but did it deliver? Five years after voters legalized recreational cannabis for adults, many cities and counties have yet to adopt programs to boost the chances of success for hopeful Black and Latino cannabis entrepreneurs. Los Angeles Times


No more SAT and ACT testing requirements for Cal State schools? California State University sent a strong signal that it will permanently scrap SAT and ACT testing requirements for admission, aligning it with the University of California, which has dumped the standardized exams. Los Angeles Times

The battle over vaccine rules for kids reignites in California. Lawmakers want to create stricter vaccine mandates, especially for children. They anticipate an especially fierce fight in the coming months. CalMatters


How Inglewood got SoFi Stadium and the Super Bowl. Here’s the story of how a horse racing track beat out a landfill, a rock quarry and downtown convention center hall in a battle of billionaires to host L.A. County’s first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years. LAist

Two men bump elbows as a third watches in an empty NFL stadium.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos, left, Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts gather during the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for SoFi Stadium in September 2020.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Esteban Torres, a longtime L.A. congressman who championed Latino rights, dies at 91. Torres, a son of East Los Angeles, emerged from the Chicano civil rights movement to become a United Auto Workers leader, anti-poverty activist and eight-term member of the House. After retiring from Congress, he was a co-founder of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a museum and cultural center near downtown L.A.’s Olvera Street. Los Angeles Times

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Higher interest rates are coming. What does it mean for California homes, cars and credit cards? Housing will probably be more expensive. The interest on credit cards, cars and student loans is likely to go up. And interest on savings is not likely to grow all that much. Sacramento Bee


San Francisco’s 2021 crime data just came out. Here’s what the numbers show. In San Francisco overall, property crimes went up 11% and violent crimes went up by 1% in 2021 compared to 2020, but the numbers as a whole were lower than crime from 2019 and previous years. SFGATE

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California lawsuit settlement limits ICE from re-detaining immigrants freed because of pandemic. The settlement comes as COVID-19 infections in detention centers have surged since December to 3,129 — nearly 15% of the total detained population — as of Wednesday. Eleven people in ICE custody have died of COVID-19, according to the agency. Los Angeles Times


San Francisco eases mask, vaccination proof rules as Omicron recedes. The new rules, which take effect Tuesday, will say that gym members and office workers no longer need to wear a mask indoors as long as they are up to date on their vaccinations and booster shot, if eligible. Los Angeles Times

Proposed ballot measure to build more California dams, desalination projects likely to be withdrawn due to lack of money and signatures. Despite California’s drought, supporters haven’t built a big enough coalition for the water measure. Mercury News



Augustine tribe’s Temalpakh Farm Market opens in Coachella with bird singing, fresh produce. One of the smallest Native American tribes in the United States, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, opened a new produce market as part of the tribe’s roughly 50-acre Temalpakh Farm in Coachella. Desert Sun

Gifts from my two mothers: One Korean, one Black. An adoptee from South Korea grows up in Compton, then learns she had more in common with her birth mother than she ever imagined. Los Angeles Times

Column: Racism in O.C. schools is nothing new — but it’s surprisingly diverse. Video shot from the visitors stands at Portola High in Irvine captures a Laguna Hills High student shouting racist insults at a Black Portola basketball player, drawing national attention as yet the latest last gasp of old, nasty Orange County. But in many ways, hate is more insidious in Orange County than ever before, even as white students are no longer the majority in several of its schools, Gustavo Arellano writes. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 74 San Diego: partly cloudy, 70 San Francisco: partly cloudy, 62 San Jose: partly cloudy, 69 Fresno: partly cloudy, 66 Sacramento: partly cloudy, 62


Today’s California memory is from Shen Pauley:

I took off for California on a frigid, grey day in mid-September, in the early ’70s, driving nonstop for several thousand miles. I was exhausted but elated when I landed in the splendors of Yosemite Valley. I marveled at El Capitan, and took a plunge in the refreshing Merced River. I climbed the heights of Yosemite Falls at moonlight in the clear air. A hike to Tuolumne Meadows wrapped me in a magical sense of wonder. I unfurled like a flower in the bright warmth and opened to new friends and adventures. Amazingly, I met a traveling children’s theater troupe at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, joined up with them and spent many years traveling the state in creative, rewarding fun with kids. Later, I settled into a cozy cabin in idyllic Skyforest, near Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was a peaceful and happy time for me, surrounded by tall ponderosas with a lovely organic garden and Nubian goats. California was an epiphany, and this happiness stays with me through the years.


If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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