LAUSD, teachers union reach pact on continued distance learning

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Empty Hollywood High hallway on September 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

With Los Angeles Unified campuses remaining largely closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district and its teachers union have extended their labor agreement governing distance learning, with the pact including additional office hours and up to 30 more minutes of instruction time on Mondays.

According to the district and United Teachers Los Angeles, negotiations will resume in January over plans for "hybrid instruction'' -- a mix of in-person and online learning -- if the pandemic eases to the point of select students being permitted to return to campuses.

"We are continuing to work through all of the details on how to provide the best possible education when students are able to return to campuses,'' LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said. "To put it mildly, this is not simple, as we have to balance the need for as much in-person instruction with protecting the health and safety of all in the school community in 1,400 schools with about 650,000 students and 75,000 employees all spread across 700 square miles.''

Students identified as needing in-person instruction will be prioritized to return to campuses first, LAUSD stated.

In the meantime, however, classes will remain online. The contract agreement announced Friday largely mirrors the one that was already in place for the fall, but that pact was set to expire at the end of the year. The new deal will be in place until June 30, or until school campuses are allowed to reopen.

The new agreement calls for an additional 20 to 30 minutes of instruction on Mondays for students in first- through 12th-grades. It also adds one hour per month -- 15 minutes each Monday -- for professional development or department meetings, and 30 additional minutes of office hours Tuesdays through Fridays for meetings with students and families.

The semester will technically begin Jan. 11, but that will be a "pupil-free day,'' to allow for planning and preparation. A "Smart Start'' session will begin Jan. 12 to allow teachers and students to "focus on relationship building and social emotional learning,'' which LAUSD officials said will also allow instructional program flexibility.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Hollywood High Special Education teacher Shirley Woods conducts class remotely on September 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

"We are gratified to reach an agreement to extend the distance learning  agreement, which is what our students need right now,'' UTLA President
Cecily Myart-Cruz said. "In the face of the upheaval we are all dealing with, educators, students and families need stability most of all, and our bargaining
team worked 24-7 to meet that need.''

Myart-Cruz said student learning has suffered due to the distance learning, and the union hopes to reach an agreement with the district in the coming weeks on a plan to resume in-person education. According to the district, the two sides have set a Jan. 24 deadline to complete plans for hybrid learning.

The sides are also in discussion about the possibility of offering in-person instruction for select students next summer to help them "recover lost learning opportunities, deal with the anxiety and trauma from the pandemic and add enrichment to their lives,'' according to the district.

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