Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner declined Wednesday to add a letter from President Donald Trump about COVID-19 to the food assistance boxes the district is sending to people in need.
Beutner said the letter may be a violation of federal laws that prohibit elected officials from participating in certain political activities.
“I am writing to inform you Los Angeles Unified will not be including your proposed letter in the Families Food Boxes we’re providing to families as part of our community relief efforts,” Beutner said. “The letter may be a violation of the Hatch Act and will further politicize the response to COVID-19.”
Copies of the letter were to be placed in boxes across the country that are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Since May, the program has distributed more than 100 million boxes, but the letter is a new development.
The letter comes in both English and Spanish on White House letterhead and features Trump’s signature.
“As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities,” Trump’s letter begins. “As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.
“…As our country reopens, I urge all Americans to continue to adhere to the important precautions set forth in the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America and by the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention regarding how to best protect yourself and your family. A few key best practices to support our nationwide recovery are:
1. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands;
2. People who feel sick should stay home;
3. Protect the most vulnerable individuals, including those 80+ years of age and those with pre-existing conditions;
4. Practice social distancing and consider wearing a face covering in public.
“You and your loved ones are cherished members of our great American family,” the letter concludes. “This pandemic has brought many hardships on millions of hardworking individuals and communities through no fault of their own. We will support America’s recovery every step of the way. Together, we will overcome this challenge, and our nation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before.”
Medical experts call masks essential to fighting the spread of COVID-19. Many states, including California, counties and cities mandate masks and social distancing.
The administration has denied that the letter was political or improper.
“Politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program,” the U.S. Agriculture Department said in an emailed statement to Politico. “It is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.”
Beutner said he was also concerned about the timing of the letter, as on Monday Trump announced discussions regarding federal coronavirus relief would halt until after the Nov. 3 election.
“Some officials contend that the extraordinary emergency actions taken by school districts — from providing millions of free meals to the families they serve to buying computers for students to creating their own COVID-19 testing programs — are somehow optional. They aren’t,” Beutner said.
Beutner said LAUSD is poised to spend more than $350 million on food for those in need, computers for students and COVID-19 testing for all in schools that has not been reimbursed by local, state or federal government agencies.
LAUSD’s response to the Trump administration comes after Tuesday’s announcement by San Diego Unified School District that it would not include the letter in boxes that had not yet been distributed.
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