Editorial: Wake up, LAUSD. You have an urgent job to do: saving kids’ education

Alta California Elementary School kindergartner Louie Watkins writes in his math workbook
Alta California Elementary School kindergartner Louie Watkins writes in his math workbook on April 20, 2021, as school reopened in Panorama City.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The amount of learning lost during the pandemic, especially among students who were already woefully behind, needs to be treated as an emergency — a disaster that requires immediate and lionhearted effort and resolve. That is not what’s been happening in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

L.A. Unified finally got middle- and high-school students back to classrooms, but to do what? Zoom in a room — remote instruction in a classroom where kids have to sit in one place most of the day, masked, taught by a teacher in another room. At home, at least, they can keep the mask off, stretch and move around. No wonder the vast majority of families — more than 90% for high school and 88% for middle school — have declined to return.

For some kids, Zoom in a room is a better option. There are tutors on site to give them extra help, and they’re served prepared meals, which include a period of socialization with others. For parents who feel their kids have been skipping class or zoning out at home, this is a chance to have them under the eye of a teacher, albeit one who’s also teaching remotely to kids at home and in other classrooms. Parents also might need or want the child care.


But let’s call it what it is: pathetic. In elementary school, where children are taught by the teacher at the head of the classroom, 30% have returned to campus. It’s not enough, but 30% in a district this large is thousands of students getting an education that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

The scheduling is difficult, of course. But from the start, many other districts planned their schedules around the possible return of students and now are offering at least part-time classroom instruction. L.A. Unified once again seems to be the outlier, for the worse, after negotiating a deal with teachers that gave students less face-to-face instruction during the pandemic than other large districts were providing.

There’s a disturbing pattern here. Next school year won’t be extended by two weeks because the board didn’t try hard enough with United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposed the enhancement. Summer school is looking problematic, with too few teachers signing up to instruct students. There still is no formal academic recovery plan.

Nothing about this displays enough concern for students, especially low-income students of color, who have lost more learning than more privileged kids. Instead, this raises the dangerous possibility that the district will lower standards in order to push high school students through the diploma requirements.

It’s not just disappointment with the room-Zoom setup that’s keeping kids at home. Many people who live in areas that were hard hit by the pandemic — predominantly in underserved neighborhoods — have seen neighbors and loved ones die. Scientists are right when they say the chances of the coronavirus being spread to children and to their families are extremely small. But extremely small doesn’t feel small enough when it’s a grandparent’s life that’s at stake. By the end of summer, widespread vaccination should ease concerns, unless a problematic variant shows up.

The district also took too long to open classrooms. By the time that happened, the school year was close to over and many families figured, why bother? They’d built up routines and child-care arrangements that were hardly worth undoing at this point. Many teens had taken jobs to help their families. School districts that opened earlier have seen a lot more kids return.


These issues have posed problems for most California districts. But Los Angeles Unified is doing considerably worse, and its students, many of whom were struggling long before the pandemic, can’t afford this.

Wake up, school board. Your superintendent is leaving and you haven’t come out with a real plan for saving your kids.

There is talk of having school based mostly in classrooms come August. Remote learning would continue, as it should, but not with the current system in which a teacher at the local school is instructing the students who would normally be in the classroom. A more limited number of teachers within groupings of schools would remotely teach specific grades and subjects. We hope the choice of teachers will be based on who has done the most effective switchover to remote learning, not on who has the most seniority.

Regardless, that’s a minimal effort at recovery, not bold leadership and total dedication. L.A. Unified, what have you got to show us? The parents and kids need to know.