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Group affiliated with teachers union accuses Times of bias in L.A. Unified reopening coverage

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A coalition of teachers, parents and community activists on Wednesday accused The Times of giving disproportionate coverage to those who want to quickly reopen Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, and short shrift to those in minority communities who urge a more deliberate approach during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reclaim Our Schools L.A., a group aligned with the United Teachers Los Angeles union, released a report analyzing seven months of columns, editorials and news articles, saying the newspaper demonstrated bias in its coverage of school reopening issues.

The group claims that the paper has relied too heavily on voices from wealthier communities where support for reopening quickly is stronger.

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Teachers, parents, business people and others have been discussing for months when to bring back 465,000 K-12 students since the district moved to online learning about a year ago.

Alicia Baltazar, a Reclaim Our Schools member and parent of a fifth-grader in Wilmington, said during a news conference that she was disturbed seeing “stories about it’s parents against teachers.”

She added: “That simply is not true. Parents like myself and other members of Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles have been working hand in hand with our teachers to keep our schools closed and to open only when it’s safe to do so.”

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Reclaim Our Schools said that after receiving complaints from parents about The Times’ coverage, it examined 105 articles published between June and January and logged the identities of individuals who provided a total of 304 quotes to the newspaper.

The review concluded that 58% of the voices “elevated” by The Times came from three categories: professional/higher income individuals, small-business owners or millionaires, even though more than 80% of families in the L.A. district have low enough incomes to qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

The report said that fewer than 9% of those quoted were people it identified as working-class or low-income.

The report did not list the specific stories or provide the names of people whose quotes were analyzed. The Times has published more than 300 stories about L.A. schools since the pandemic began, far more than the number of stories the group said it analyzed.

Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning defended the newspaper’s coverage of schools in the pandemic. She said that hundreds of stories had included an array of voices, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, along with union leadership and education organizations.

“We have been guided by a mission of helping parents and students navigate these unprecedented times,” Manning said. “The Times’ education coverage has focused on the wrenching inequities brought on by closures and remote schooling, showing how students in communities hard hit by the pandemic have been affected.”

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She said the Times had worked hard to “include a range of diverse and representative voices in our coverage.”

Reclaim Our Schools complained that the array of sources quoted in The Times tended to present a false dichotomy: that the majority of parents have been pushing hard for school to reopen, while teachers resisted.

Some 65% of parents quoted over the last seven-plus months by the newspaper said they wanted a return to in-person instruction, while 35% said campuses should open only when it’s safe, the Reclaim Our Schools report said.

The district in December released a survey showing that more than a third of parents wanted to send their children back to campus.

A smaller parallel survey by an outside group, Speak Up, found a sharp racial and ethnic divide: 69% of white parents wanted to send their children back the following semester, with strict safety measures in place. That compared with 33% of Black parents and 37% of Latino parents who felt comfortable doing so. The Times reported those findings Dec. 3.

Manning said The Times had asked the authors for more information about their methodology and data analysis “so we may better understand their findings. We are listening to the criticism and are eager to understand how we might improve our news coverage.”

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