“Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.” She even went so far as to suggest darkly that “learning loss” is a fake crisis marketed by shadowy purveyors of clinical and classroom assessments.
Theoretically, all 33,000 teachers in the union are allowed to vote for their president. In practice, though, turnout is minuscule. In the election of 2020, only 5,300 members cast ballots, or about 16 percent of the union. Myart-Cruz got 69 percent of that 16 percent, thanks in no small part to her fiery rhetoric. “The fight for racial justice is awakening a broader segment of the public to the reality of systemic racism,” she said in a speech after her election
From the start of the pandemic, relations between parents and Myart-Cruz were strained. When schools first shut down in March 2020, other districts scrambled to fill the void with Zoom classes and other remote forms of teaching. But Myart-Cruz threw a wrench in the LAUSD’s plans by insisting that teachers in her union could not be forced to teach remotely for more than four hours a day, the fewest hours of the five largest districts in California, even though they’d continue to be paid for a full day.
“[We] don’t think [it’s] healthy for students to be in front of a screen,” one of her deputies, Julie Van Winkle, later said, explaining the union’s position during a heated negotiation with the school board. (Van Winkle would soon land in hot water for posting a photo of herself in a Blue Lives Murder T-shirt that ended up on UTLA’s Instagram account). In point of fact, L.A. teachers weren’t doing a lot of remote schooling at all in those early days; they were mainly just posting videos online and making students fill out worksheets.
Myart-Cruz allegedly ordered a study to determine the ethnic backgrounds of her more vocal critics, presumably so that she could prove her point. One parent, Maryam Qudrat, who had been loudly pushing in the press for more Zoom time for kids, claims she received an odd email from a researcher at UTLA asking pointed questions about her racial background. “I thought it was some kind of scam,” says Qudrat, whose parents immigrated here from Afghanistan. “But I reread it and realized it was real. I felt almost violated, like they were bullying me. It was clear to me that Cecily Myart-Cruz made this whole thing into some sort of racial war.” UTLA doesn’t deny conducting the study but later claimed in a statement, “This outreach by the researcher was not authorized.”
“Board members are looking at a political life down the road, and if they want a future in the Democratic Party, they have to tread carefully,” notes Katie Braude, chief executive of SpeakUp, a parent advocacy group that often clashes with UTLA. “They have to be very careful about not being characterized as anti-union. That accounts for some of the softness on the board, which gives the superintendent less power to negotiate.”