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California

Citing coronavirus risks, L.A. teachers union calls for new limits on charter schools

Gabriella Charter School
Gabriella Charter School, which has a dance-focused program, shares space on an L.A. Unified campus. The teachers union wants to halt new charters and new campus-sharing arrangements, citing the coronavirus crisis.
(Andrew Renneisen / For The Times)

Citing the coronavirus emergency, the L.A. teachers union on Thursday called for a moratorium on new charter school approvals and a halt to new campus-sharing arrangements with charters.

United Teachers Los Angeles has long wanted to slow or stop the growth of these privately operated public schools, but cast its current opposition in terms of the ongoing health crisis of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, in a letter sent to Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner on Thursday, said it would be unfair to approve new charter schools without an opportunity for board members to hear from community members. Currently members of the public are unable to gather and it could be difficult for them to participate in scheduled board meetings, which probably would take place by video- or audio-conferencing.

All district campuses have been closed since March 13 and will not open until at least May 1. Typically the seven-member school board meets at least twice a month at district headquarters just west of downtown. It is not known when the board will resume its regular meetings. It was not clear Thursday night how many charter schools, if any, would have been scheduled for possible board approval in the next several months.

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Also in the letter the union said it opposed any first-time agreements that would allow a charter to share space with a district-operated school. Charters have a right to space on district campuses under state law.

“Given the seriousness of this COVID-19 outbreak, the complexity of new public health standards to be implemented, and how quickly schools will have to adjust, there is simply not enough time for any new co-location or new charter approvals to be established in a healthy and safe way,” Caputo-Pearl said.

A spokesman for the California Charter Schools Assn. called the union’s position “shameful and offensive.”

“UTLA leadership needs to get its priorities straight during this unprecedented health crisis, focus on all students, and apologize to the kids and families they have continuously targeted,” said Luis Vizcaino, referring to charter school supporters. “We are better together, and we need leaders who unite, not divide, our community to meet this moment.”

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In addition to Beutner, Caputo-Pearl sent the letter to school board members and state officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

Halting new sharing arrangements could be difficult for charter operators who were already counting on using district space. Finding alternative locations could be costly if not impossible, especially during the current public health emergency.

Delaying the approval of new charters also could pose a problem for charter advocates. Starting July 1, local school boards will have more authority to reject new charter petitions.


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