LA Unified Teachers Strike

January 14th marked the first day of the Los Angeles Unified teachers strike where more than 30,000 teachers took to the picket lines against the 2nd largest district in the nation. A sea of Red for Ed. This is a historic day as districts throughout the US are watching closely, waiting to choose their next steps in their own challenges within their communities. Los Angeles is a leading city, it’s the 2nd largest metropolis in the country and the entire world looks to this city for entertainment, cultural movements and, yes, education! As someone who works within the schools, I have seen first hand the challenges that the teachers are bringing to light. I have had my eye on the district for a few years since it had just under 1 million students attending the k-12th schools throughout the massive boundaries that make up LA Unified.

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Los Angeles is unlike any other city in the country. The drastic cultural and economic changes that happen within blocks is shocking. If you haven’t visited in a while you may have a perception of what LA is. As a resident, let me help you. You can drive through a neighborhood of houses with perfect hedges, full staffs and a price tag of over 30 million dollars and two streets later there are families living in tents with all of their belongings in the back of a car parked nearby. I am not exaggerating, this is the reality of the boundaries of Los Angeles. LA is not just a downtown,  it is Beverly Hills, Bel Air , the beach cities (Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu), the Valley , the rough parts of town and so on. The needs, educational levels, cultural and economic backgrounds of each student are drastically different and there is one district trying to meet the needs of all. It is a task that has to have a solution.

” I used to volunteer at an elementary school in south LA and it was insane how over crowded and under staffed it was. Most of the kids were ESL and there weren’t enough people to help with the language barriers. 😢”- L.A. Unified Volunteer.

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Our students spend most of their time at school and many L.A. Unified kids attend aftercare programs. The way they are treated, cared for, nurtured and the services provided for them at school are immensely important. I completely realize the sense of overwhelming stress coming from the district itself. I feel overwhelmed even thinking about the task of meeting the needs of 600,000 students. What the teachers are asking for, in my opinion, is only a few things off the gigantic list of needs to change items within the district. I would start with new boundaries!

One of the main challenges of 2019 is the weight that is put on the schools to be all things to each kid. It is hard to be a kid and teen today. With social media, social pressures, the state of our children’s mental health as a country, bullying and other challenges our schools are expected to be their confidant, their mentor, their trainer, their character builder, their disciplinarian, their educator.

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I am an advocate for the school bringing in all of these programs. I emphasize prioritizing of character education and social and emotional learning (LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR WORKSHOPS) but I see it over and over again where parents lean too much on the schools to impart these things into their kids.

Parents have a lot going on today. I get it it’s really hard, especially living in L.A. where the cost of living is exorbitant and the constant need to keep our families afloat can keep us away from our children. Because of this, we do rely a lot on the schools they attend.

Because of these challenges, the district may gain the upper hand in the negotiations. The way the teachers maintain their stand is for students to stay home during the strike. Many students receive Free and reduced lunches from school,  meaning they may not eat if they don’t attend. Many parents don’t have an alternative for child care and cannot miss work. Some homeless youth go to school to find shelter. Many parents want to support the teachers but practically speaking,  they can’t.

In some communities, we have seen an outpouring of support,  not only for the teachers, but also for fellow parents. Some have held meetings and chosen which parent and house will house the kids which days. Many students and parents have hit the picket lines to show their support. It is a beautiful stand for students.

What teachers are asking for:

I have asked several people what they think the strike is about. Many roll their eyes and say money. Like it’s wrong for teachers to want more money. Have you ever taught something for just an hour? How much prep time went into that, how much study and education, how much anxiety did you have getting up in front of your audience? Now multiply that by about 4 hrs per day, times 180 school days a year, and add on all the time you would spend caring for each child like they are yours, one on one time with students and parents, school activities, supplies you have to shop for and purchase out of your own checkbook and the emotion poured out as you experience stories of pain and wanting and trying to make it better.

BUT, that’s not what it’s about in focus.

Teachers in L.A., like those across the country, want bigger paychecks. But their demands go beyond salary increases: “UTLA wants more money for counselors, nurses and librarians, plus a reduction in standardized testing and promises of smaller class sizes.” –USAtoday.com

The main things:

CLASS SIZES.

I have spoken to classrooms in L.A. Unified- they are huge! It makes it challenging for students to get focused help, ask questions and retain the information in their learning style. It doubles the effort and work of the teachers, and it creates a stressful environment where a teacher may have to be more controlling, loud etc. to maintain control of the class.

COUNSELORS, NURSES & LIBRARIANS.

This is a HUGE issue for me. Being on campuses across this country and working directly with the mental health professionals,  I have been aware of the country’s lack of daily mental health professional support on most campuses. And it is a major concern to me with the suicide rate up 200% in teen girls.

“Despite the need for school psychologists, they are in short supply. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends that districts employ one school psychologist for every 500 to 700 students, but that’s not happening,’ says Philip Lazarus, PhD.

How often do our kids come home from school saying they got stung by a bee or hit in the head with a ball? If your school has a nurse you don’t think anything of it but if the nurse isn’t there would you feel safe sending your kids to school every day? Many kids have health challenges like Type 1 Diabetes that need constant monitoring and professional assistance in possible emergencies. Many students who have life-threatening challenges are being forced to homeschool.

There is also the dispute over charters taking funding and students. I am a supporter of charters. I feel that having the ability to choose a specific focus or type of school is a privilege that all parents and students should have. Many parents choose a charter because it focuses on a learning style that their child has and that child can thrive in that environment rather than the mainstream education many of the public schools are offering.

One thing that LA Unified does have, even within their mainstream systems,  are unique learning opportunities. One high school gives the students the opportunity to do a mental health track or a gaming/ coding track. This is something that you don’t see all over the country,  and is a huge forward-thinking way to bring education to every community.

The district has its reasons, there are two sides to every story. They say they have already allocated the money that would be used for the raise, class size decreases, hires, etc. to other places. The district has offered a 6% raise with terms but theThe union is demanding a 6.5 percent raise that would take effect all at once and a year sooner; more nurses, librarians, and counselors; and a pledge to reduce class sizes. UTLA says a reported $1.8 billion district reserve could be used to meet their demands, but the district says that money has already been fully earmarked.” –CBSlocal.com

How long with the faceoff last? Well on day one the district lost 25 million dollars due to the fact that each child absent means $’s lost. Today Charter schools joined the picket lines which means more money lost. There are around 600,000 students in L.A. Unified currently and that number is has been on the drastic decline for various reasons, one being relocation. If the schools continue to lose money each day, this will cause the district to reconsider if the students return to class for various reasons the district will continue to operate with subs and volunteers as they are now, and the union will have to reconsider. During the strike, the teachers are not getting paid and they too have to support their families.

We will see…

What do you think will happen?

What are you experiencing in your district?

Come back soon for an update.

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