L.A. school district changes plan for expanded school year under teachers union pressure

LAUSD new superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho teaches a 5th.Grade class at Fair Avenue Elementary School on Feb. 17, 2022.
L.A. schools Supt. Alberto M. Carvalho address students in a fifth-grade class in February at Fair Avenue Elementary School in North Hollywood. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Under pressure from the teachers union, Los Angeles school officials have changed their plan to create four optional "acceleration days" to boost student learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of taking place on Wednesdays at what the district had described as strategic points of the school year, the days will fall at the beginning of winter break and spring break under a tentative agreement, officials announced Wednesday.

Union members must still approve the deal, according to United Teachers Los Angeles.

Under the original schedule, the first of these days was set to take place in three weeks, on Oct. 19, but the potential value of that particular day had become increasingly uncertain.

Under the announced agreement, the original four acceleration days will revert to regular school days and the school year will end four days earlier as a result.

Under the new plan, the acceleration days will fall on Dec. 19-20 and April 3-4.

In a statement, L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho stressed that students still would receive extra learning time, even if key details had changed.

"Though our original plan would have allowed real-time understanding of student gaps, this updated plan allows students to benefit from the instruction and support provided by fully staffed schools," Carvalho said. "At the end of the day, we will continue to do right by our students.”

The district's statement also emphasized the importance of the extra learning time as one strategy to pursue in tandem with others: "Numerous studies have shown that learning loss from the pandemic is a national crisis which every school district must address. Acceleration Days are one of many innovative instructional strategies deployed to support students."

During these additional days of instruction, teachers and support staff are expected to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups. This sort of tutoring also is expected to take place on a pull-out basis during normal school days and outside of school hours during a regular school week.

Up till now, however, few students have taken part in tutoring, Carvalho recently acknowledged. He vowed to increase participation dramatically.

The teachers union had characterized the acceleration days as a waste of time and a waste of $122 million, but accepted the revised schedule as offering a better continuation of learning and “fidelity to the contractual work year. “

The district had set aside up to $122 million to cover fully staffed acceleration days, as well as three extra training days for teachers. Those training days have already taken place.

Despite heated rhetoric from the teachers union, the two sides had been approaching an agreement for at least a week.

The most recent posted teachers union counteroffer was structured like the agreement that emerged, but had scheduled two acceleration days during the Monday and Tuesday of the weeklong Thanksgiving break rather than at the start of the three-week winter break.

The teachers union had called for its members to boycott the upcoming extra learning day on Oct. 19, even though it was optional and teachers would have received extra pay. The day also was optional for students and targeted to help those who most needed academic assistance.

But the union had contended that the district had no right to schedule the extra learning days without first taking the matter to labor negotiations. In addition to calling for the boycott, the union filed paperwork with the state labor board, alleging an illegal act and asking for state officials to intervene.

The filing of the complaint would not have immediately prevented the nation’s second-largest school system from carrying out its schedule as intended. But principals reported that the uncertainty over how many teachers would attend made it difficult to assure the extra learning time would be useful for students.

UTLA filed the complaint, called an unfair practice charge, with the California Public Employment Relations Board, which would have investigated the allegations. The union wanted the labor board to advise — and, if necessary, compel — L.A. Unified to “immediately” withdraw the four school days and “return to the status quo.”

After that, the union said, the district could begin to “bargain in good faith over the amount and distribution of employee work days (voluntary and mandatory) and other consequential terms and conditions of employment.”

Even though the district defended its actions as legally appropriate, it opted to enter into negotiations over the matter with UTLA — a decision that culminated in the revised plan.

Details of the alternative proposal emerged early Wednesday in an email that another union, Local 99 of Service Employees International, sent to its members. Local 99 asked its members to weigh in because, if the alternate plan were approved, some of them would be needed to work those additional days. That union's members include teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians.

District officials said they were working to reach agreement with all unions over the extra learning days.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.