Striking teachers huddled under ponchos and tents outside in the rain as half-empty buses and parents dropped off about 150,000 LAUSD students at schools for the first day of the first United Teachers Los Angeles strike in 30 years.
Parents at many West Side elementary schools reported sparse attendance – fewer than 100 kids at some schools, and just over 100 at others. Paseo Del Rey elementary school parent Troy Clements brought his three kids in. “I love my teachers here,” he said, but “my kids have perfect attendance, and I wanted them to keep that.”
Marlton School, a K-12 school in South Los Angeles, which serves many kids who are deaf and hard of hearing, had more than half of their usual students, but only a quarter showed up at El Sereno Middle School, where LAUSD’s Chief Academic Officer Francis Gipson was back in the classroom teaching kids. She was one of 2,000 central office administrators deployed to school sites to help.
Teacher protests at schools were mostly peaceful, although parents at several schools reported problems at drop-off. A parent at Marquez Elementary, an affiliated charter in Pacific Palisades, said picketers harassed her as she tried to take her twins to school, including one with autism and a genetic disorder.
“I am a working single mother with a disabled child,” the parent told Speak UP. “Picketers blocked our access to the handicap spot and heckled us. LAPD had to move them. It was very disappointing. Once the kids got to campus it was OK, but crossing that line was a bear. It is shameful. If the goal was to make me sympathetic to LAUSD, they succeeded. I thought that was impossible.”
One parent volunteer at another West Side school reported that someone wearing union red took her photograph to intimidate her as she showed up to help. And a parent at Braddock Elementary school’s Mandarin Immersion program said a drunk man she did not recognize (and who was not a teacher at the school) walked off the picket line and started an altercation with her and her husband until police were called.
Parents at WISH charter middle school, which co-locates at Westchester High, said picketing teachers blocked the entrance to their valet drop-off, and one picketer flipped off a parent and her kids.
“The kids were a little upset,” said Chloe Donovan who has a child at WISH middle, a national model of inclusive education for kids with special needs. “They didn’t understand what was going on. It makes me feel a little sad because I definitely support the teachers. They forget we’re all LAUSD families, and we’re all just looking for places to send our children.”
Some parents joined teachers on the picket line and marched with them in the rain, while others brought coffee and food.
Gloria Rodriguez, who has one child at an independent charter and one child at Linda Esperanza Marquez High School, said she’s organizing a group of parent volunteers to cook rice, beans and chicken for teachers at three schools tomorrow, even though she knows UTLA is fighting against her other child’s school. “I don’t like the anti-charter stuff,” she said.
The teachers at MaCES in Maywood had a DJ outside and tried to talk parents out of taking kids to school, but inside the kids worked on laptops in classrooms, the gym and the multi-purpose room. “Everything went well,” said one of 10 parent volunteers at the school. “It was well planned, controlled and well-organized.”
Clearly, it was far from a typical day, but the kids, principals, parent volunteers and staff made the best of a bad situation. The quality of instruction kids received inside schools seemed to vary widely, though.
Gipson had a classroom of eager students analyzing texts, while kids in the library were coding on tablet devices. The school's principal was also teaching a class using a differentiated reading software program.
“This is the safest place for our kids so I encourage all families to make sure that kids are in school and are safe and learning,” said El Sereno Middle School Principal Joyce Dara. “We can’t replace teachers, but we’re doing a great job of making sure our kids continue to learn and are safe.”
Some kids on break in the hallway at El Sereno, though, said that they weren’t learning much in the auditorium, and they planned to have their parents come pick them up early.
At Marlton, students made lava lamps, learned chess, had a healthy food cooking class, and young kids gathered in the library for story time. Principal Charmain Young also discussed the strike as a civics lesson and emphasized that it was important for students to speak up for what they need. “I really want my teacher back,” one student said in American Sign language.
At Reseda Charter High some kids watched a Ted Talk about leadership in an auditorium. Others did Zumba, played basketball, worked out in the weight room and just hung out on their phones. In the main gym, tables, chairs and laptops were set up so students could explore the college search website Naviance. One student said the day was "boring" because so little learning was taking place. But "all things considered, it’s going really smoothly,” said Principal Melanie Welsh.
At one school on the West Side, where the principal asked to remain anonymous, the kindergarteners and first graders were in the classrooms, but grades 2-5 were in the auditorium. The principal had an online lesson plan, but the technology failed because too many people were using it at the same time.
Paul Robak sent his son to Cortinas School Of Visual and Performing Arts High School. “Sophomores and seniors went to the gym where they watched Coco,” he said. “[My son] told me he wants to stay home tomorrow.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom called on both sides to put their differences aside and come to an agreement because the strike is “disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families.”
Victoria von Brauchitsch, a therapist who worked as a substitute teacher at Monte Vista in Highland Park, called her principal “a hero” who didn’t take a break all day. “When the kids came in, they were frightened and confused, and I was so glad I was there to give them the hugs and listen to their questions and talk to them about how they were feeling,” she said.
Principal Young at Marlton kept an upbeat attitude throughout the day, despite the challenges. “It is important I stay positive because [everyone else] will feed off that energy,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t go on long.”
— Jenny Hontz and Leslee Komaiko