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In union poll, 58% of L.A. Unified teachers want to keep mandatory masking

More than half of Los Angeles Unified teachers who responded to a union poll want to continue the district’s indoor mask mandate, and union leaders have proposed lifting the requirement at schools where at least 75% of staff and students are vaccinated.

The tally was 58% for keeping the requirement and 42% for ending it, according to an update the union sent to members Thursday morning. The survey was taken as the district and union are negotiating the future of masking and coronavirus testing in the nation’s second-largest school system.

The poll was conducted on March 13 and 14, and more than 18,500 union members participated. The union has more than 30,000 members, according to recent figures, and represents nurses, counselors and librarians as well as teachers.

Most school districts in Los Angeles County have moved to optional masking — as allowed by county health officials, who also continue to strongly recommend the use of masks for indoor school settings.

L.A. Unified has not released its bargaining proposals, but Supt. Alberto Carvalho has stated that he is ready to move the district to optional masking. He’s also said he wants to ramp down the costly weekly testing program, so the money saved can be shifted to support other student needs.

In an earlier agreement, L.A. school officials committed to bargaining with the teachers union over masking. Most other school systems were not bound by such an agreement with their teachers union. Leaders of other L.A. Unified unions said they also want to be consulted over the matter.

Families are divided over the issue. In a poll from early February, a clear majority wanted required masking to continue, but that was closer to the peak of the Omicron surge and before county officials allowed schools to make masking optional. More recent, informal polls from two Los Angeles parent groups suggested that most parents now favor optional masking, although communities hardest hit by the pandemic were likely to be under-represented in those surveys.

A group of families protested against masks this week outside the headquarters of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

There are strong feelings and large constituencies on each side of the masking debate.

In addition to masking, a second poll question also has potential ramifications for families. Union members weighed in on whether to end the weekly coronavirus testing program. On that issue, 76% supported keeping the required weekly testing of all students and staff; 24% supported ending the requirement.

The union has proposed continuing the weekly testing through June 30 — essentially the end of the current school year — and moving to optional indoor masking at schools where at least 75% of staff and students combined are fully vaccinated, starting on March 28.

Schools that don’t meet that threshold would maintain required indoor masking.

The threshold could be challenging to reach at some campuses, especially elementary schools. As of March 6, 29% of children ages 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated in Los Angeles County, according to figures provided by the county public health department.

For ages 12 to 17, 77% of county residents are fully vaccinated.

All staff at schools must be vaccinated in L.A. Unified, which would help schools reach the 75% threshold.

The union also wants L.A. Unified to commit to regular data updates on testing results. The union proposal also asks the district “to meet and consult over the possible need to reimplement the indoor masking requirement if positivity rates derived from the district testing program increase for two consecutive weeks.”

In its update to members, the union also described the district’s counterproposal in ongoing negotiations.

According to the union’s account, the district proposed ending the mask mandate on March 18 and continuing to provide high-grade masks on request to any employee.

The district has proposed a weekly testing regimen that varies according to the age of the students. For early education centers and elementary schools, weekly required testing would continue through the end of the students’ instructional year. At secondary schools testing would continue through April 29.

The weekly testing would continue to be in the form of PCR tests, which are more accurate in finding infections early on, but also more expensive — because they must be shipped to a lab for overnight processing.

The district also has proposed “required antigen baseline testing” for all staff and students before returning from spring break, according to the union. Antigen tests provide almost instant results and can be highly effective at determining when an individual is most contagious.



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