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Our mission is to engage, educate, and activate public school parents to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their schools, in their communities, with elected representatives, and at the ballot box.
How Will A Strike Affect LA's Kids?
In recent weeks, talk of a possible strike by LAUSD teachers has been increasing, to the point that Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his help this week to resolve the negotiations.
Last Thursday, just a few weeks after the start of classes, UTLA, the union that represents more than 30,000 teachers, began voting on whether to authorize the first strike in the district since 1989, which would affect more than 480,000 children and their families. The voting ends this Thursday, August 30. The result of this vote does not imply that the strike will start automatically.
The students and their families are involved, albeit unintentionally, in the negotiations between UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) and the school district, and many are either unaware of the details of the negotiations or even of the possibility of a strike.
"The truth is that I did not know anything," Nuria Velázquez, mother of a student at Roscoe Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, confessed in surprise. At dismissal, other parents at that school were also surprised with the news.
Among parent concerns upon learning of a possible strike are the academic performance of the children and the schedules of working parents, since many would have to find childcare and incur an extra expense they had not planned. At the same time, thousands of Los Angeles families depend on the breakfast and lunch offered by LAUSD schools to feed their children which they could lose temporarily if a strike is declared.
"I understand the teachers, and we support them. But the truth is that if there is a strike, things will become complicated for me," Velazquez said.
"What do you mean, a strike? They just started classes," said Celia Méndez, another mother, in surprise. "Children forget enough during the holidays. This will delay them even more. And in the end, how is this their fault? They should let us give our opinion too. They forget that those decisions also affect our children," she observed.
Other parents, on the other hand, were aware of the union negotiations, although they complained that they had not received more information about it.
"As parents, this strike is somewhat confusing. I have many questions and few answers," said Raquel Toscano, whose two children attend the Maywood Center for Enrichment Studies in Maywood. Toscano is a volunteer at her children's school and a member of Speak UP (http://speakupparents.org), an organization that seeks to give parents a greater voice in education policy and in the decisions that affect the education of their children.
"I would like to know if the schools are ready for the strike, if there will be substitute teachers, how it will affect children who do not perform well academically. I also wonder if the teachers can concentrate with everything that is happening, and even what will happen with the preparation for the state exams that are approaching," questioned Toscano.
"As a mother, I'm not against the teachers at all. On the contrary, I hope they reach an agreement. But everyone has to do everything possible to avoid having to go to the extreme of a strike, because that will affect us all. We all lose with a strike. We have to be united for the children if we really want to make a difference in their lives," reflected Toscano.
Esmeralda Rivera started attending the Pacific Boulevard school in Huntington Park when she was 6 years old. But at the end of 5th grade, and despite the fact that the school goes from Kindergarten to 12th grade, the authorities told her she had to change schools.
Pacific Boulevard is a special education school, with facilities specially designed for children with medium and severe disabilities, such as a gym and play area adapted for the use of wheelchairs, large classrooms with bathrooms inside the classroom and beds where they change the children. Years ago, students up to 22 years of age, and with disabilities, could attend up to the 12th grade. But the center began a transitional phase, including other children from the general population to encourage integrated education, and began transferring graduates from 5th grade to other schools.
"My daughter has epilepsy and seizures," shared Aurelia Eraso, mother of 14 year old Esmeralda. "They already knew her at Pacific Boulevard and they had specialized personnel who knew how to act when there were any problems" she noted.
"When Esmeralda had a seizure at the new school [Los Angeles Academy], the teacher and the other kids got scared, they did not know how to act," the mother recalled.
After the incident, the teacher asked Eraso to leave the girl in the house. Currently, Esmeralda no longer attends school and must take classes at home.
I am a mother of two children, and my oldest child was diagnosed with autism ten years ago this year. Like many parents with children who have autism, my family is African-American, and thus we have a culturally unique experience with disability. It was my family’s experience at the intersection of disability and race that led me to my current research as a Ph.D. student in the anthropology department at UCLA. My work centers on African-American parents of children with autism and the health care and autism service disparities that affect this population and that have a far-reaching impact in the classroom and beyond.
Disparities in autism care begin with the diagnostic process within the medical system. Several recent academic public health studies have shown that African-American children are under-diagnosed compared to White American children. “White children are about 19 percent more likely than Black children…to be diagnosed with autism,” according to the Spectrum News, and Black children are also diagnosed later. “As a result, African American children may require longer and more intensive intervention,” which winds up costing far more.
Black children are misdiagnosed more often than White children. ADHD, adjustment disorder, and conduct disorder are among the most common misdiagnoses. This may help explain the seeming contradiction between the fact that African American kids are under-diagnosed for autism but are over-identified for special education services at LAUSD. Misdiagnosis can result in school placement and services that are inappropriate for children with autism.
Public education is full of buzzwords, used individually or strung together into slogans. Nowhere is this public-relations practice more evident than in the Los Angeles Unified School District. You’re always hearing and seeing them: Student Achievement, School Safety, Transparency, Accountability, I Love LAUSD and, most recently, Kids First.
Another popular slogan often tossed around is Parent Engagement. This sounds wonderfully warm and fuzzy when it’s mentioned at Back to School Night, in a PTA meeting or at an orientation session for school volunteers. The term conjures up visions of bake sales, field-trip chaperoning, helping teachers in classrooms, working with the principal to hammer out next year’s budget, and all the things we usually associate with being an involved parent at our child’s school.
While some school principals understand the tremendous value of proactively engaging their students’ parents on campus, many don’t. Whether it’s due to inexperience as a school leader or a wrongheaded philosophy that parents are a potential problem to be controlled, the belief among some administrators that they don’t need or want to parents to fully participate in the education of their children is unfortunately pervasive throughout LAUSD.
So it’s no surprise that as administrators rise through the District ranks to positions of increasing authority, their mixed feelings about parent engagement continue to influence their actions and decisions. This same uncertainty affects the trio of District-level parent committees: the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).
Members of these committees are recruited from schools all over LAUSD, and while they come with the best of intentions to volunteer their time in the hope of helping the District improve their own kids’ education and the education of all students, often they find that their contributions are not valued and appreciated in the way they expected.
The mission of Speak UP is to engage, educate and activate parents and community members to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their children’s schools, in their communities, with elected representatives and at the ballot box.
La misión de Speak UP es involucrar, educar y activar a los padres y miembros de la comunidad para abogar en las escuelas de sus hijos, en sus comunidades, con representantes electos y en las urnas por una educación pública excelente y equitativa.