United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is under fire after Maryam Qudrat, a mother of Middle Eastern descent, was asked by the UTLA to identify her race after criticizing the union’s opposition to reopening schools despite overwhelming science that it is safe. The response of the UTLA was evasive to the point of incomprehension. However, the controversy is fueled by recent efforts to portray parents demanding a return to school as racist or examples of white privilege, including recent controversial comments from the UTLA President.
Qudrat was contacted by the UTLA after she spoke out against the opposition to resuming classes in Los Angeles. She has a seventh-grade child and has been calling for the union to follow the science. Instead, they contracted her with an email from a union research who noted that she has been quoted twice by the LA Times in eight months and the union wants to know her race. The email notes that her name sounds Iranian but the researcher does not want to assume her race with a “legitimate method.”
The concern however is why the union is trying to racially classify critics. The fact that Qudrat was quoted twice in the LA Times would not yield any broader demographic information on the range of parents who want their kids back in school. Instead, the email is intimidating when opposition to the closings is being used by some to claim racism. That issue arose recently with the public statements of UTLA President:
“Some voices are being allowed to speak louder than others. We have to call out the privilege behind the largely White wealthy parents driving the push for a rushed return. Their experience of this pandemic is not our students’ families’ experiences.”
Myart-Cruz has also criticized “Middle Eastern” parents in joining “white parents” in seeking school re-openings.
In response to the latest controversy, UTLA issues this statement:
“The email in question is from a UTLA researcher who was attempting to ascertain the race of individuals quoted in order to assess whether or not that is a factor we could evaluate. This outreach by the researcher was not authorized and nothing from that outreach is contained in the report. We understand this type of email could be taken out of context.”
What exactly does that mean? The researcher was working for UTLA “to ascertain the race of individual quoted in order to assess whether or not this is a fact we could evaluate.” Read that over a couple of times. “Assess whether . . . we could evaluate”? Moreover, what are you evaluating? This sounds more like opposition research. What would it matter is the small number of people quoted in a newspaper have a particular ethnic background? It would not establish the make up of families holding that position. While the union says “we understand this type of email could be taken out of context,” it does not explain the context or purpose. It does not deny that it was researching the race of anyone who opposes the union effort to keep the schools closed.
In reality, there are many minority parents who have spoken out about the need to re-open and the science is clear on the issue. Indeed, it was clear when the Trump Administration was pushing for re-opening last year despite ads calling such efforts “attempted murder” before the election.
Obviously, the claims of racism from the UTLA will chill other parents from speaking out. Indeed, we recently discussed a leading researcher who stopped his work on Covid-19 due to threats and harassment for showing minimal risk from school openings. That is the “context” that many of us are concerned about when reading this email.