As the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to reopen its classrooms to students this month, the fear of contracting COVID may keep some Latinx parents from sending their kids back to school right away.
“I just think there are a lot of things we need to get going first before we even think of opening up,” said Erika Álvarez, an LAUSD educator and parent.
An Out of Classroom Teacher who provides support to grades TK-12, Álvarez, 33, worries that schools that are already understaffed will have a difficult time maintaining a clean and safe environment for students, teachers and other personnel.
“I think that we definitely need to put a lot more in place to make sure that everyone is safe,” she said.
Last month, LAUSD reached a deal with United Teachers Los Angeles that will allow the school district to begin opening schools as early as this month. Under a plan announced later by school superintendent Austin Beutner, 50 elementary schools and 10 early education centers will go back to in-person learning the week of April 12. The remaining elementary schools and early education centers will open the week of April 19.
Elementary school students will be on campus five days a week, with the same group of students in one of two periods: from either 8:00 am – 11:00 am or 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm. Classrooms will be cleaned between the am and pm blocks.
Middle and high schools will reopen later in April, but the students will not go back to in-person learning. Instead, they will be given the option to return to campus on alternating days and continue attending classes online in a single classroom with noise-cancelling headphones, in a scheme some parents are calling “Zoom in a room.”
Parents will have the choice of sending their children back to school or keeping them at home, and according to a survey sent out to LAUSD families last month, elementary school parents are more willing to send students back than those of middle and high school students.
For many Latinx parents, COVID will be a determining factor.
Evelyn Aleman, a public relations professional who started an advocacy group for Spanish-speaking public school parents told LAist last month that many parents who have contracted COVID fear they may be reinfected. The group called “Our Voice: Communities for Quality Education” held a Zoom meeting last month where some parents complained that school leaders were not including their voices in the conversation.
Latinx children comprise more than 74% of LAUSD’s student population. And according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Latino/ Hispanic households have been more severely impacted by COVID than any other race. (Although Latinos make up less than 47% of the population in LA, data on Friday showed that 51.2% of the positive cases in the county, or or 594,038, were Latino/ Hispanic individuals.)
Jazmin Garcia, 37, said she will not be sending her child back to school until she feels it is safe for her daughter and LAUSD staff. “If she was to go back in the coming weeks, I think we’d be at risk” she said.
Garcia and Álvarez both shared that they would only feel safe sending their children back to school once all LAUSD staff and families were vaccinated and they were assured that basic gear (gloves, masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, cleaning products, etc.) was provided, social distancing was enforced, and they were provided with the protocols LAUSD is planning to implement to keep everyone safe.
“I worry a lot about [my daughter] contracting it first and foremost, all of our educators and all of our staff and any other child, maybe with some kind of autoimmune deficiency or disease, maybe they don’t know of” Alvarez said.
Reported disparities in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine also worry Latinx parents.
“I think we need to worry about the vaccinations first, make sure that they’re with everyone that will be at each school site, and make sure that we can provide vaccinations to all of LAUSD families” said Alvarez.
But not all Latino parents agree. For some, concerns over their children’s mental health outweigh the fear of contracting COVID.
Susana Guerrero, 49, thinks that keeping kids at home rather than sending them back to campus will cause more harm than good. She said she believes it is fundamental for her children to socialize with and learn from their peers.
“All of their emotional development depends largely on their socialization, their ability to play, jump, learn from other children,” she said. “And of having a professional teacher guiding them.”
Guerrero said she’s happy that LAUSD is giving parents the ability to decide what’s best for their children.
“We’re saying that we want options,” Guerrero said. “Not that they have to force teachers to return, or that they have to force kids to return.”