LAUSD expects parents to send their kids to school during a strike, but parents are still uncertain exactly what will happen once they get there. Will they have to parade their young children through picket lines of shouting teachers? How many adults will be supervising their kids, and what will they be doing at school all day? These are just a few of the questions district parents are asking two months before a strike may take place.
The district recently published a Family Resource Guide to help families better understand what’s happening with labor negotiations and what plans the district has in place for kids during a strike. For instance, schools will remain open, and kids will be expected to attend school as usual. Those who receive breakfast in the classroom and free and reduced lunch will continue to be fed, and “instruction will be provided by qualified L.A. Unified staff, which includes certificated and classified staff, qualified substitute employees, or reassigned administrators,” the guide says.
Beyond those basics, however, district officials are providing few details on how many employees will cross the picket line, what the ratio of adults to students will be at each school and what kind of learning will take place and where.
Elmer G. Roldan, director of civic engagement for the superintendent’s office, recently held a conference call with representatives from about three dozen afterschool providers and parent and community groups to help get the word out to parents about the possibility of an impending strike.
“Our goal,” Roldan told the groups on the call, “is to make sure that students have a safe place to go to, they are fed, and that we are able to provide some of the basic academic programs.”
The Division of Instruction has created strike plans that have been shared with principals, but they are “only as good as the number of bodies that we have in the schools to help carry them out,” Roldan said. While LAUSD is making a list of employees with teaching credentials it can deploy to school sites, Roldan acknowledged that there’s still uncertainty over how many people will be willing to cross the picket lines to help.
As a result, we don’t know whether kids will be crowded into cafeterias and auditoriums (rather than gathering in their usual classrooms) due to diminished adult-to-student ratios, and whether they will have to watch educational videos en masse. “I certainly wouldn’t want students to be in a cafeteria or an auditorium,” Roldan said. “That’s just not ideal for anyone.”
The most acute staffing shortages are expected at elementary schools, and the district will prioritize support team deployment based on need. “We are working, especially with principals that don’t have as much support, especially elementary school principals that are finding themselves in situations where it’s 800 kids to maybe two or three staff.”
Roldan acknowledged that it’s not just employees who may be hesitant to cross picket lines. Some parents may want to keep their kids out of school to support their teachers, while others cannot afford childcare or time off of work and will have no choice but to send their kids to school. Many families are also concerned that their kids might fall behind academically if they miss any instructional days.
“The last thing we want is for our families to be hurt and be caught in the middle of this strike,” Roldan said.
Even so, he made one thing clear: Any student absences will be unexcused. The district relies on student attendance for state funding, and while some outside organizations or city recreation centers could potentially open their doors for kids during a strike, that won’t count as attendance for state funding purposes.
LAUSD is in the midst of a serious financial crisis and is facing threats of a takeover. The Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees LAUSD’s budget, sent a letter to the district Thursday warning LAUSD to address its “alarming” deficit spending by Dec. 17 or lose decision-making authority, according to LA School Report. LAUSD currently spends about $500 million more every year than it receives in revenue and will exhaust its budget reserves in a three years without spending cuts.
Keeping kids home from school during a strike could be costly for the district and make its financial crisis even worse. The district would then be even less equipped to meet union demands. If even 10 percent of parents keep kids home from school during a strike, LAUSD would lose millions in revenue each day.
While independent charter school teachers will not be on strike, there could be some confusion among families at campuses that co-locate with district schools. Roldan said the district was working to ensure that charter schools would be minimally impacted and “that learning isn’t interrupted.” He also said that some charters had offered to help support the kids at the district schools with whom they share space but there may be liability issues.
LAUSD is welcoming help from community organizations and also parent volunteers if the strike happens. Roldan said LAUSD is trying to expedite the process of getting volunteers fingerprinted and TB tested, but they can’t take shortcuts. Their commitment is to ensure that “any adult who sets foot in schools is cleared.” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner is also bringing a resolution to the Board to waive the $57 fee associated with fingerprinting to becoming a volunteer. The fee is prohibitive for many families in LAUSD, where about 80 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced school lunches.
Roldan acknowledged that some schools may have far more parent volunteers than others.
LAUSD is doing all it can to avoid a strike and recently made a new offer to United Teachers Los Angeles, but it was instantly rejected so LAUSD is planning for the worst. “We are exhausting our energy right now,” Roldan said. “The district hasn't had a teachers' strike in 30 years... It’s definitely a tough time to be here at the district… It’s just as complicated as you all can imagine.”