On July 9, approximately 80 protesters gathered in Beverly Gardens Park to push back against the Beverly Hills Unified School District and the notion expressed by its board of education two days earlier that classes might resume this fall only in online formats.
Protesters chanted and held signs encouraging school district officials to open schools for in-person instruction in the fall, which would likely fall under the hybrid model of instruction proposed by the district. In the hybrid model, students would be split into cohorts that would take turns attending in-person classes and spend the remainder of their time learning virtually. On July 7, the BHUSD board indicated it would support replacing the hybrid model with virtual learning when school resumes on Aug. 17.
Victoria Conti, a Beverly Hills resident and mother of a Hawthorne School student and another child who will attend Hawthorne next year, said she protested because children need in-person instruction. Some businesses – such as restaurants – allow in-person activities, she argued, and schools should do so as well, especially because in-person instruction is much more effective than virtual learning for students.
“I don’t understand why people can’t gather to get their education. In this country, it’s very irresponsible. Kids are our future and kids must have an education,” Conti said.
Conti added that the protesters are part of a group of approximately 250 BHUSD parents who are pushing back against online-only education, and many of the protesters believe that the teachers union, the Beverly Hills Education Association, is working to prevent the schools from reopening. Conti also alleged that some politicians, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and the BHUSD Board of Education, are acting based on political interests, not health interests.
“Teachers don’t want to go [back to school] because they’re paid annually, and it’s comfortable for them to stay home and I understand that, but it’s not comfortable for us as parents for them to do that. I don’t want my kids to stay in front of a computer all day long. It’s not good for health, for mental health, there are too many reasons that it’s not good,” Conti said.
Ethan Smith, president of Beverly Hills Education Association, said the teachers union is worried about the risks posed by COVID-19 when students and teachers gather for in-person classes.
“It’s not politics on our part. We’re generally concerned for the health of our teachers and our students, and the community in general. You can’t deny the facts of the global pandemic. People have not done what’s necessary to crush the virus, and you’re seeing the results of that now,” Smith said.
Smith added that teachers have had more time to prepare for virtual learning this fall, which will improve the educational experience.
“When we went to remote teaching in March, we learned about it over spring break,” Smith said. “Teachers did a Herculean effort to learn a whole lot of software and programs they didn’t really know, and now we have a summer to prepare. We know what’s going to be happening. It won’t be a surprise. This time we’ll be more prepared than we were in March and ready to teach in extraordinary circumstances.”
Smith said the BHEA is working with the BHUSD to come to an agreement about instruction in the fall.
In a statement, BHUSD Superintendent Michael Bregy said the district is also concerned about safety for students and teachers, and a decision has not yet been made regarding in-person classes in the fall.
“Should we physically open, we cannot guarantee safety for our students or staff, and we cannot offer consistency as education will be disrupted when inevitably a student or staff member tests positive with a confirmed case, and the people they were in contact with (for more than 15 minutes) will remain at home in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days,” Bregy said.
Bregy added that “while we understand some parents are disheartened by the discussions around keeping our children safe at home,” the district has received a great deal of emails supporting the decision to explore “sound and consistent academic possibilities for our students.”
Conti said it’s untenable for many parents to continue to work while their children learn at home, and if the BHUSD chooses not to return to in-person classes, she will consider sending her children to private school.
“Some percent of parents are going to switch for sure. Not all of them, but people have to work,” she said.
Smith said he understands how “frustrating” it is for parents to have to either work at home and take care of their children simultaneously, or try to find a way to make sure their children are taken care of while they’re at work, but the online instruction “is a short-term situation.”
“BHEA is committed to being a community partner and getting us all through this pandemic and doing the best for everybody’s health and safety, not only for our children but for the whole community. Teachers want to go back to school and be with their students in person, and we’ll be ready to do that when it’s safe,” Smith said.
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