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Help is on the way for some of L.A.’s most vulnerable students

White tents on a grass field
Tutoring in L.A. Unified is likely to take place in tents that may resemble these outdoor learning stations on the Sycamore Ridge campus in San Diego County.
(Sycamore Ridge School)

Students who are academically struggling will be able to receive one-on-one in-person tutoring in the Los Angeles Unified School District under an agreement between the teachers union and the district.

Until the deal, which the union announced late Thursday, leaders of the teachers union had discouraged voluntary teacher participation in such tutoring until it signed off on safety protocols and other operating rules for the effort — reflecting the statewide concerns among teachers about returning to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families interested in the tutoring should speak to their child’s teacher or the school administration. The district did not provide information Friday about how many students may be able to benefit from the tutoring. Supt. Austin Beutner said last week that the effort was being organized locally in each of the district’s 42 administrative units. The school year started Aug. 18.

Teachers who participate will be compensated at their hourly rate for sessions that last 50 minutes, with 10 minutes reserved for sanitation between meetings, according to a bulletin that United Teachers Los Angeles sent to members. The tutoring sessions are expected to take place outside normal school hours, which run from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

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Because of the pandemic and coronavirus rates in Los Angeles County, daily classes in the nation’s second-largest school district are conducted online.

Both union and district leaders have acknowledged that distance learning — especially last spring, when there were no set school hours — has resulted in learning loss and exacerbated academic gaps between students attending schools in more affluent areas and students from schools in low-income, primarily Latino and Black communities. But these same low-income communities also have endured the highest rates of coronavirus infection and would potentially face greater risk from reopening schools before transmission was under better control.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz said the agreement strikes a necessary balance between student academic needs and safety.

“We are gratified that we could reach an agreement that supports our most vulnerable students and follows best practices to uphold the health and safety of our school communities,” Myart-Cruz said. UTLA also represents counselors, nurses and librarians.

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The district emphasized Friday in an email that settings for the tutoring will incorporate “the same state-of-the-art health practices that have been in place since the new school year began.”

The agreement would allow for any state or federally required assessments that are better delivered in person to students with disabilities, students learning English and academically gifted students, the union said. In addition, the deal covers in-person, one-on-one interaction with adult school students as necessary.

Participation is voluntary and teachers can pull out without repercussions.

“It’s a coalition of the willing,” Beutner said in an interview last week when details were still being negotiated.

All participants must supply a negative coronavirus test result — either via the district’s testing program or that of another provider.

The student-teacher interaction is supposed to take place “in an outdoor covered area when practical,” according to the text of the signed agreement, which was provided by the union. Teachers and others involved in assessment “may elect to work in regular-sized classrooms with sufficient space for compliance with social distancing protocols and adequate air circulation.”

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The agreement stipulates a minimum of six feet of separation and 10 feet when possible. There also are conditions for the ad hoc outdoor teaching stations.

Union members must be provided with face coverings and face shields on request as well as either hand sanitizer or a hand-washing location. All students “shall be provided daily an individual, resealable plastic bag of school supplies,” according to the agreement. Also available will be a whiteboard, markers, pencils, pens, a notebook and chart paper or an easel.

Students and staff must have access to separate bathrooms.

Although the tutoring is compensated, union members won’t be paid extra for student assessments if they occur within the employee’s regular working hours.

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Under revised state rules, students have been permitted on campus for tutoring or for small-group instruction of high-need students since Sept. 14. But it was up to local school districts to decide whether to offer these services and when and how to do so.

Some L.A. County districts have moved faster than L.A. Unified in bringing some students to campus — one way or another.

Glendale Unified has had about 1,000 elementary students learning from supervised classrooms while their teachers instruct them online from home, about 4% of district enrollment. On Monday, Las Virgenes Unified brought in 198 students with special needs from all grade levels, about 2% of enrollment.

“We are very excited and over the moon to have even a few students on campus,” said Las Virgenes Supt. Dan Stepenosky.

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Schools in Orange County and San Diego County have been able to open for all students — with extensive safety protocols — because coronavirus transmission there is less prevalent than in L.A. County. Even so, not all school systems in those counties have done so.

Even in L.A. County and other coronavirus hot spots, state rules allow districts to bring up to 10% of a school’s students on campus at any given time. But the students must have special needs best served by being on campus.

Separately, as of this week, schools in Los Angeles County can apply for waivers that would allow for the return of students in kindergarten through second grade — but employee unions must express support. Other counties have not insisted on union approval.

Schools and school districts also are allowed to offer on-campus child care, which is the provision being exercised by Glendale Unified.

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In Los Angeles, the tutoring was scheduled to begin on Monday of this week — even with union negotiations still in progress.


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