E4E-Los Angeles Teachers Spearhead an Effort to Demand an Equitable Recovery for Students
Over the challenging past year of instruction, teachers in Los Angeles went above and beyond for their students, making sure that they received the best education possible whether in virtual classrooms or during the transition back to in-person. The problem was that when they received reopening plans, teachers didn't feel that the plans incorporated the level of detail or clarity that they needed to transition safely and smoothly back to in-person classrooms. Not only did reopening plans not feel comprehensive, they didn’t consistently incorporate teachers’ firsthand experience, and most notably the plans didn’t seem to center on equity for students.
Misti Kemmer and Letitia Avalos, two E4E-Los Angeles teacher leaders, repeatedly heard these frustrations and worries from teachers. Misti shared that teachers “had a million questions that no one was answering.” Letitia noted that she felt that “there is a huge beast of worries and concerns,” and that teachers felt a real “lack of equity” for students.
After hearing these concerns, Letitia and Misti knew that they had to take action. Joined by a group of E4E-Los Angeles teacher leaders, they called an emergency meeting and invited educators from across LAUSD. Whereas in the past—and especially during the pandemic—Misti noted that it was hard to get teachers to take action, this time “the deep-seated frustration with the reopening process really fueled people.” In all, over 50 educators from across LAUSD came to the emergency meeting. “To be able to have teachers come together and share their experiences was very powerful,” said Letitia.
Below, you can find more of Letitia and Misti’s thoughts on the emergency meeting, how they used that momentum to get a meeting scheduled with LAUSD Board Members, and how these efforts have helped to secure a more just reopening.
Will you share your experience at the emergency meeting?
Letitia: I felt inspired just by listening to the voices of other teachers—to know that I’m not crazy and there are others who share my passion and want action to be taken. Then we continued to see people take action, and that was empowering. We didn’t have the meeting and then stopped, but the ball keeps rolling.
Misti: I concur with a lot of what Letitia said. The diversity of people who came out—not just by race, but younger teachers, veteran teachers, etc.—that I don’t always see. And especially as people are so “zoomed out”, for people to still come out and be on zoom longer after a whole day showed how pressing of an issue it was for people.
Our teacher leaders, including Misti and Letitia, used the Emergency Meeting to ask about teacher experience with distance and hybrid instruction. E4E members shared powerful testimonies detailing the challenges in their classrooms and developed hard asks with these testimonies in mind so that officials can create equitable plans that infused teacher voice. At the end of the meeting, E4E members used the momentum to reach out to LAUSD school board members, which has since led to several in-person meetings.
Thank you for all of the work that you’ve put in to secure an equitable reopening for students, teachers, and families! Your and the other teacher leaders’ work is critical for advocating for the needs of the most adversely impacted students. How was the meeting with Boardmember Ortiz Franklin? It sounds like there are some exciting next steps to look forward to?
Misti: I normally dislike speaking at public meetings. But part of me knows that if something’s not being said, I’ll jump in because the message is more important than my fear. I’m also always worried after meeting with decision makers if anything will get done. But this time it seems like there is action actually happening and resolutions possibly being written.
Letitia: Yes! For Board Members, we want you to jump on board with us. Imagine—what if these were your kids in the classroom? What if they were just trying to figure out how to learn in a classroom during a pandemic. Especially with teachers not getting information from above? We asked the Boardmember to put herself in the students’ or their families’ shoes. We asked her to work with us to get the plans together; we know that we have the time this summer.
Misti: I also want to continue to push for change to happen. I like that Boardmember Ortiz Franklin sends invites for open forums that teachers can join and discuss. Board Members need to hear what’s going on on the ground, and they don’t always. For us, we need to keep pushing for transparency, action, and plans. I’m frustrated that we’re almost done with this year and teachers at other districts already have plans for the fall. I’ve signed up for summer school, but I still haven’t been told what’s happening. Los Angeles should be leading the way for the rest of California, not trailing behind. Educators have to keep advocating and push on results for the rest of our district.
What does an equitable recovery plan look like to you?
Misti: We’re already starting from a place where things are not equitable. How do you make a reopening equitable when our daily experience wasn’t equitable before the pandemic? There was a district survey asking parents and teachers what were our priorities. One was the social emotional aspect—students have been gone for a long time. They’ve had deaths in the family and trauma. We’ve gone back, but already we’re not talking about that enough. I’m just worried about returning to business as usual. We still don’t have even one full-time school site counselor for students. Instead, here comes the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessment) and getting them ready, but we have kids who haven’t tuned in for a year and there’s a lot of work to do. What are we going to do about it? And then there’s issues of race and all that has happened this past school year--and we’re still not talking much about it in our district.
Letitia: Yes, we’re already trying to play catch-up with all the needed equity work. I also agree with Misti on social emotional needs. We need mental health professionals on campus when we fully return to in-person classes. I continue to conduct my social emotional learning in the morning every day with my kids. As a teacher, I try to help the best that I can, but I’m not fully equipped on how to deliver specialized mental health services. For technology, we’ve had families who’ve moved to Vegas or Santa Ana. Are we going to use the dollars to stay tech savvy? With the pandemic, we threw out the SBAC, but are we going to realize that there are better ways to assess? Testing isn’t the end-all-be-all. We can’t go back to normal—that wouldn’t be an equitable plan.
Interested in joining the fight for LAUSD students? Join educators like Misti and Letitia in advocating for an equitable recovery plan for students in Los Angeles by signing this petition now!