United Teachers Los Angeles confirmed that its members will go on strike for the first time in 30 years on Monday, throwing the lives of parents and kids into disarray as they wrestle with whether to send their kids to understaffed schools or scramble to find and pay for childcare for an undetermined period of time.
“Our members are prepared to strike for as long as it takes,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Sunday.
LAUSD made new offers last week for 6 percent raises, lower class sizes and more nurses, counselors and librarians. UTLA rejected the latest offer Friday, and no new talks took place over the weekend.
“Los Angeles Unified did not want a strike and offered UTLA leaders a $565 million package to significantly reduce class sizes, add nearly 1,200 educators in schools, and provide all UTLA members with 6 percent salary raises,” LAUSD said in a statement Sunday. “Los Angeles Unified remains committed to contract negotiations and will continue to work around the clock to find solutions to end the strike which will hurt students, families and communities most in need throughout Los Angeles.”
Many parents are worried about their kids’ safety and the quality of instruction during a strike. Debi Anderson has a daughter with autism at Hamilton High and a son in the School For Advanced Studies at University High.
“We’re very concerned,” Anderson said. “Children need to be in school. My children are juniors, and it’s a critical year. They were just out for three weeks. We’re concerned about their learning, and we’re concerned how it’s going to be managed at these two large high schools. Hamilton has 3000 kids there. How it’s going to be managed, I have no idea.”
LAUSD plans to keep all K-12 schools open and has hired about 400 substitute teachers to help supervise students, often in large areas such as cafeterias and auditoriums. LAUSD will also deploy 2000 administrators to schools to help. Weather forecasters expect it to rain all week, complicating matters for everyone.
SEIU Local 99, which represents bus drivers, cafeteria workers and aides, will be holding sympathy strikes at 10 schools, which will remain open. However, LAUSD-run State Preschool programs and Early Education Centers will be closed to all preschoolers, except for students with special needs.
Parents have been struggling all week trying to decide whether to send their kids to school and how to take care of them if they don’t. Many want to support their teachers but are also worried that their schools will lose attendance revenue, which could worsen LAUSD’s financial crisis.
Parents are also concerned that absences will be unexcused. Principals have discretion over whether to enforce state truancy laws, according to Pia Escudero, executive director of LAUSD’s Health and Human Services division. They will examine a student’s attendance record all semester, and those with excellent attendance all year will not be held to the same standards for missing school during a strike as those with chronic attendance issues, she said.
Either way, student graduation will not be affected. “An attendance requirement to graduate is not part of the district’s policy,” Escudero said. “Student absences during work stoppage will not impact graduation.”
Many parents have no choice but to send their kids to school. Eighty percent of LAUSD students rely on school for two free and reduced priced meals a day, and there are 17,000 homeless students attending LAUSD schools. Parents of kids with severe special needs are especially on edge. Nurses will also be striking, and some medically fragile kids who are fed through feeding tubes or at risk of seizures are especially vulnerable.
“I’m very sad and concerned for my child and other children’s safety and well-being,” said Rosa Elena Andresen, whose 20-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and attends Pacific Boulevard with many such medically fragile kids.
Debi Anderson said that her daughter, who requires consistent routines, grew emotional when she told her about the strike. “She’s extremely sensitive,” Anderson said. “She loves going to school. This has an impact on the kids.”
Parents like her just want the adults to stop fighting and make a fair deal for the sake of the students. “We’re not taking any side,” she said. “We’re on the side of the children. We’re talking about the lives of children. They’re the real concern here.”
Read Speak UP’s Strike FAQ For Parents here.