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Board candidate Tanya Ortiz Franklin: With less than a month to go before school reopens for remote-only learning, LA Unified needs to act now to prioritize students’ needs

Tanya Ortiz Franklin | July 27, 2020

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Tanya Ortiz Franklin is a candidate for Los Angeles Unified’s Board District 7. (Tanya Franklin)

While we are all wading through the uncharted waters of a global pandemic interlaced with a racial justice uprising, one thing is clear — the clock is ticking towards back to school. Last week, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, announced what many had predicted: that because of the surge in coronavirus cases, school will reopen exclusively with distance learning.

Whether we are most concerned about our youngest learners for whom six hours of daily screen time is developmentally inappropriate, our students with disabilities who require specialized instruction, our parents who are juggling work, parenting and their children’s learning time, or our educators and school staff who rely on summer days to prepare lessons and refine operational systems for the new year, we need action in LA Unified now.

We can figure this out. Our students are counting on us and our shared future depends on it. But time is of the essence. Students, families and staff are relying on LAUSD leadership to prioritize student needs, communicate transparently and with purpose, take swift action, and most importantly, do what we hired them to do — lead.

First, LAUSD must center students’ academic and social-emotional needs. A students-first approach means that negotiations between the district and United Teachers Los Angeles must prioritize students’ holistic preparation for college, career and life. Distance learning schedules should allow every student to learn grade-level material while also accounting for diversity in students’ prior knowledge, foundational skills, and personal situations at home. Classroom teachers and administrators, alongside parents and students, are best poised to determine plans for their individual students and community. Any decisions made at the district level must not only clarify minimum standards but also honor schools’ and students’ specific needs, including the resources and flexibility required to meet those needs. Before August 18th — not six weeks into the school year, as we experienced this past spring — all students must receive devices and free online connectivity for continuous communication, social-emotional connection and academic learning all year long.

Second, LAUSD must communicate purposefully and transparently. This means articulating a clear plan and prioritizing two-way communication. Weekly video updates (Mondays at 11 a.m. on KLCS and are a start, but the district must facilitate meaningful communication between parents, students and staff. Every family and staff member should be asked, not anonymously (as has been done), but specifically: If public health officials approve our plan, will you return to campus in person when it is safe to do so? Leadership can use this information to “do the math” and plan for safe and efficient utilization of campus space, matching at-home students to at-home teachers and hybrid students to hybrid teachers in the spring semester or when public health experts determine it is safe to return to campus.

Third, LAUSD must model and make decisions from a growth-oriented mindset. The district leadership team can learn from the expertise of over 60,000 employees, hundreds of thousands of students and parents, and dozens of charter school leaders to help develop, revise, and vet a plan, not just for distance learning, but also for redefining success this school year. District staff members who are experts in curriculum should be working alongside teachers to adjust for remote instruction and ensure materials are culturally responsive, healing-centered, and anti-racist. District facilities and operations staff should be helping administrators and out-of-classroom staff members walk through campus well in advance of when students might physically return to determine any new necessary purchases, signage, and protocols. And district staff who specialize in parent engagement, mental health, and the arts can collaborate, connect, and create with our community for a better overall school experience. This is the time to think holistically, get excited about possibilities, and uncover new learning together.

LA County has seen over 4,000 deaths and more than 159,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, disproportionately impacting the Black and Latinx communities that make up over 80 percent of LAUSD students. It is very likely that every campus will have a community member affected by the virus and in some communities, the impact will be exponential. Knowing that students of color also had disproportionate access to online learning, our district’s leaders must step up to center our highest-need students.

They deserve leaders who will put their interests first. It is imperative over the next four weeks, in preparation for the start of the 2020-21 school year on August 18, that LAUSD leaders work closely with educators, parents, students, administrators and other school staff to plan quickly for an optimistic launch to the school year and effective distance learning throughout.

Tanya Ortiz Franklin is a candidate for Los Angeles Unified’s Board District 7.

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