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Teachers’ union calls on L.A. schools to close because of coronavirus; board to meet Friday

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Assistant Plant Manager Tracy Westfield cleans John Burroughs Middle School on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

The L.A. teachers union is calling on the nation’s second-largest school district to close all its schools as quickly as possible to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The Los Angeles Unified School Board is scheduled to meet Friday morning in emergency session for a status report from L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner.

Based on the experience of other countries, a “proactive approach” is necessary, said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

The school system has resisted shutting down campuses so far but is preparing for that step. No case of the virus has been linked to an L.A. public school at this time.

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Despite mounting cries on Thursday afternoon for LAUSD to close, officials said it would not — at least not yet.

While schools are engaging in contingency planning that includes granting the superintendent broad emergency powers, canceling large events and planning for lessons delivered on TV, public health and school officials said they planned to keep schools open unless a confirmed case reaches a campus.

Board President Richard Vladovic said Thursday it was important to rely on the advice of health officials in making the call on whether to close schools. “The prudent decision is to take direction from the doctors and the healthcare providers that happen to know,” he said. “I can’t second-guess a pandemic and how it’s spread. If there’s ever a doubt, the safety of children will come first.”

Officials from the governor on down have avoided calling for closing schools, citing the hardships for families, the difficulty in providing academic services and even the school meals that children depend on. But Vladovic acknowledged there was widespread debate among parents and employees about what was best.

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“I’m very sensitive to that, and I’m in that group that is very susceptible, and I know that many of our employees are as well,” said Vladovic, who is 75 and has battled health issues in recent years.


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