Column: It's time for sports parents to leave LAUSD in droves

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Eric Sondheimer
·4 min read
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Fairfax guard Spencer Dinwiddie drives against Westchester's T.J. Wainwright during their Western League game on Dec. 13, 2019.
Fairfax guard Keith Dinwiddie drives against Westchester's T.J. Wainwright during their Western League game in 2019. (Steve Gazzulo)

For any parent who has a high school student enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District and values the importance of having a sports experience, it's time to break the glass window and pull the emergency lever. Head to the escape hatch. Get out now!

There is no indication the Board of Education, Superintendent Austin Beutner or the teachers union is paying any attention to the woes of high school students who want to participate in athletics during what soon will be a one-year anniversary for the shutdown of classes and activities because of the coronavirus.

For three consecutive weeks, since the state stay-at-home order was lifted on Jan. 25, I have asked the same two questions to the LAUSD media office: When will students be allowed to resume sports conditioning and when will cross-country athletes be allowed to compete? The answer is always the same: "No update."

I sent an email asking the same questions to school board President Kelly Gonez on Monday. No response. I asked the district's athletic director, Trent Cornelius, the same questions. "I'm not aware of any decisions at this time," he said.

Meanwhile, across Southern California, campuses are filled with students training and conditioning with coaches using safety protocols, from Santa Clarita to Santa Ana, from Burbank to West Covina. Cross-country meets are taking place in Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County and Los Angeles County.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health put in writing that schools are allowed to hold athletic competitions in cross-country, golf, tennis and swimming in the state's most restrictive purple tier. And yet, nothing from LAUSD.

So it's time for parents to start making plans, if not taking immediate action, to find other districts or private schools to give their sons and daughters the chance they are apparently not going to get in LAUSD.

I am well known for arguing against high school students transferring for sports reasons, but LAUSD is in bunker mentality mode and being left far behind.

On Tuesday, during a visit to Mission Viejo High, the dance team was training, the football team was on the practice field, the baseball team was fielding ground balls and tennis players were on the courts. During a visit to San Juan Capistrano JSerra, a sand volleyball court was being used, there were swimmers in the pool, basketball players were practicing on an outside court, football players were lifting weights at an outside training area, baseball players were hitting in outdoor cages and on the field, and track athletes were running.

So many students in LAUSD are losing out on opportunities because of the failure of adults to take action to empower them. Beutner keeps saying LAUSD has been planning for a return since last August, but nothing happens after county and state officials say it's OK to move forward. This all seems to be about pleasing the teachers union, which does not want to return until school workers are vaccinated, more than using common sense.

LAUSD seemed to be in a stronger position than many districts by putting together a testing program for its students. Beutner showed up at Taft High in November to salute the start of conditioning and testing for the school's football team. He promoted the release later that week of an app that the students would be using.

The app still hasn't been released for student use. Conditioning was shut down after a couple of weeks because of the December surge in coronavirus cases.

Now, parents are left to ponder their options. Independent charter schools, such El Camino Real, Birmingham and Palisades, have begun conditioning again. Granada Hills is in the planning stages. All four could end up playing competitions against one another.

Even if Gov. Gavin Newsom announces a youth sports update next week that allows football teams to begin playing, there's no way LAUSD teams could participate. Most haven't worked out as a group since last March, and it would take weeks to get into shape.

So unless parents start making their feelings known to school leaders that their sons and daughters, already facing the challenges of distant learning, are falling further behind, LAUSD will continue to go about its business as others pass them by.

Late Wednesday, Gonez sent an email setting up a time for an interview. I have lots of questions to ask.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.