Letter to L.A. County Supervisors to Reopen Schools
November 11, 2020
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
Supervisor Hilda Solis, District One
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, District Two
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, District Three
Supervisor Janice Hahn, District Four
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, District Five
Dear Honorable Supervisors,
I write to you as a parent in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD). I also presently serve on the school site council (SSC) for my daughter’s school, Webster Elementary in Malibu, where she has now spent the last third of her first grade education and the first third of her second grade education in distance learning. My wife and I have seen the impacts of distance learning not only on our child but on those of friends and family throughout the county. Parents talk amongst themselves and we are in nearly unanimous agreement that distance learning is a catastrophically misguided and long-term disaster for which our children are suffering. This is not just our isolated experience — it has been confirmed by reams of international data, as has the safety of reopening schools. There remains no legitimate debate about either of these facts. Notwithstanding the extraordinary efforts of administrators and educators to make the best of a terrible situation, there can be no disputing at this stage that distance learning is scientifically-unjustifiable and socially, psychologically, and physically deleterious. It must stop now. In a county with little more than 7,000 deaths from COVID-19 (and a death curve that continues to drop despite increasing cases), more than three million children and teenagers are being denied the one thing that has proven to be the single most significant equalizer of opportunity in American history: an education.
By allowing this situation to drag on, you run the risk of undoing more than two decades of hard work by millions of Californians to bring the benefits of early childhood education to our children in all communities. Beginning with Prop 10 in 1998 and the creation of First 5 California, this state has made enormous strides in making sure that school-age children — especially those in Kindergarten through third grade — are given the tools and attention that researchers have consistently found essential to productive, happy, and prosperous lives. All of those gains could be erased in just a few short months if we do not get children back in school as soon as possible. The worst of it will fall disproportionately on those from disadvantaged communities for whom the in-class learning experience is most essential to developing the skills and knowledge with which to elevate themselves, their families, and their communities. Countless parents have already pulled their children from failing public schools expressly because of “distance learning.” Many more will surely follow, risking the complete collapse of public education in many areas across the county and the state.
Thankfully, many schools in the county have sought and received waivers, enabling them to begin the process of re-opening — our school and district are presently discussing re-opening plans, which are not expected to be implemented before January — but there remain far too many variables beyond the control of administrators, local officials, and parents. At this point in time, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is the only body positioned and empowered to act on our behalf and put a halt to this catastrophe before its long-term impacts become irreversible. It is imperative that you follow the science and act immediately and without further delay to facilitate the re-opening of all schools and districts which are prepared and ready to do so.
Consider the following:
- According to a study in March 2019 regarding the correlation between education and life expectancy, “one more year of education increased average life expectancy at age 35 by as much as 1.7 years” with the further finding that “eliminating education-specific inequalities in mortality would save even more lives than medical advances.” Based on this research, distance learning is quite literally taking years off the lives of our children.
- A recent study by Yale of 5,700 child-care providers found no elevated risk whatsoever to those who worked in reopened facilities.
- Spanish researchers likewise found no elevated risk to either teachers or students who returned to school. In the words of researcher Enric Alvarez, “What we found is that the school being opened makes absolutely no difference.“
- Another study by the organization Insights for Education looked at 191 countries over the course of six months and found that “opening schools does not inevitably lead to increased case numbers.”
- In a recent briefing to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), University of Michigan infectious disease specialist Dr. Preeti Malani affirmed, “The data so far does not indicate that schools are a super spreader site.”
- Another recent report from Harvard cited concerns from Professor Joseph Allen that many communities are failing to reopen schools for in-person instruction even when safe to do so, inviting devastating consequences to “learning, socialization, nutrition” and other core advantages from the in-person schooling experience. In his words “We are failing” and “the consequences are devastating.”
- The largest study yet — and the first population-based study — regarding the COVID risks to adults from contact with children in the UK found “…no evidence of serious harms from COVID-19 to adults in close contact with children compared to those living in households without children. This has implications for determining the benefit-harm balance of children attending school in the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- According to a New York Times report on October 22, prior fears that school reopenings would see a resurgence of spread have proved unfounded. The report cited data from the United States, the United Kingdom and an array of infectious disease experts, including Dr. David Rubin with the University of Pennsylvania who believes “there’s a pretty good base of evidence now that schools can open safely in the presence of strong safety plans, and even at higher levels of case incidence than we had suspected.”
- Many districts like the Van Alstyne Independent School District north of Dallas, Texas are finding the adverse impact of distance learning so severe that they are abandoning it entirely.
- Specific to California, it was reported that Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top public health official, has found no link between increased transmission of the virus and the reopening of kindergarten through twelfth schools in counties where re-opening has been permitted.
- While the UK has just entered another month-long lockdown, among the “essential” services exempted are nurseries, schools, and universities. A less strict month-long curfew in nine French cities, as well as a similar month-long “lockdown lite” in Germany, are also specifically exempting schools.
- Governor Gavin Newsom’s children have gone back to school based on guidelines in Sacramento County under which numerous schools in Los Angeles County would also qualify if individual school assessments were permitted and the county were not subject to a single, inflexible “one-size-fits-all” executive order.
These are only a small sampling of the studies and the data that continues to pour in from around the world on a daily basis — all of it reaching the same conclusions:
- “Distance learning” and school closures are doing children serious long-term harm, emotionally and physically.
- School reopening poses no serious transmission risk to children or child care workers, especially in elementary schools, and schools should begin to re-open immediately.
Let me state transparently, we are not naive as to the bureaucratic and political hurdles to achieving these seemingly simple and sensible objectives. If it were purely a matter of science and data, this would be a closed case and this letter would not be necessary. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been politicized by powerful special interests like CTA and UTLA, who are exploiting the pandemic to engage in a de facto labor strike, holding our children hostage to unrealistic demands that have nothing to do with education or public health. My discussions over the past several weeks with relevant county officials have made it clear that there is no process for establishing county health orders, no serious accountability for such orders, and no process for vetting the data that underlies such orders. Neither are there any benchmarks for reopening schools, nor any plan to establish them. This is unacceptable. The voters of this county are owed honesty and transparency. You were not elected to do the bidding of powerful special interests. You were elected by parents. As the elected representatives of those parents, we expect you to do the right thing and put our children — the future of our nation — first.
We respectfully call on you to act on behalf of our children and champion their well-being before it is too late:
- Lobby Gavin Newsom to revise his Executive Order imposing a one-size-fits-all system predicated on county boundaries, and to disregard the politicized lobbying of the CTA by rescinding the current arbitrary, discriminatory, and overly restrictive waiver system. County boundaries are merely political borders — they are not relevant in a pandemic. The residents of our county move as liberally between adjacent counties as they do within the county itself. Half the communities of our county share a greater geographic and cultural affinity with surrounding communities of other counties where rules have already been relaxed. Most of these communities also boast some of the lowest case rates in the county. If not for arbitrary county boundaries, Westlake Village would be subject to the same assessment as Thousand Oaks immediately adjacent. The same holds true for Lancaster and the adjacent Kern County community of Rosamund. This reality also lays bare the ill-conceived futility of the governor’s “equity” requirement. A fourth of all California residents reside in Los Angeles County — holding the entire county hostage to infection rates in its most afflicted communities is effectively holding the entire state hostage. If this rationale had been applied to the Titanic, an insufficient number of lifeboats to rescue everyone would have resulted in a determination to rescue no one. Communities most afflicted by the pandemic deserve help, but schools, districts, and communities which are willing and able to open safely must be permitted to do so.
- Rescind any and all “heath orders” that infringe local control and deprive parents, communities, and school districts of the right to make their own decisions as to what is best and safest for their children. The communities of Los Angeles are diverse and competent to manage their own affairs. It is for this express purpose that cities incorporate and school boards are elected. Suspending municipal authorities and consolidating decision-making at the county and state levels is anti-democratic and counterproductive.
- Disregard any and all lobbying from UTLA. UTLA is not a representative or relevant Los Angeles County constituency. Their concerns can be fleshed out with the City of Los Angeles and LAUSD once county health orders are rescinded. UTLA and LAUSD are undeniably the 800 lb. gorilla in the county, but smaller cities and their school districts should not be held captive to that gorilla’s tantrums.
- Seek input instead from relevant county stakeholders for any decisions going forward — e.g. city councils, school boards, parent organizations, and neighborhood councils — while according each of them appropriate autonomy and encouragement to do what they deem best for their constituencies.
For nearly eight months, parents have seen local control and democratic institutions eroded by “emergency powers” that have left them helpless to stem the adverse impact of “distance learning” on their children. We are well past any justifiable timeframe for bringing an end to such deprivation. Parents, communities, and school districts must have their just authorities restored in order to move past the politicized distortion of science and once again put our children back on the path to building a better future for themselves and our nation.
SMMUSD Parent and School Site Council Member