While confirming that a UTLA strike could make it hard for LAUSD to meet the needs of more than 60,000 disabled students, a federal judge has nevertheless rejected LAUSD’s attempt to file a preemptive complaint to stop special education teachers and services providers from going on strike Jan. 10.
If UTLA strikes, special education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers would be unavailable to meet many of the legal requirements specified in students’ Individual Education Plans.
“The Court acknowledges that a strike could burden [LAUSD] in its ability to provide services to students,” the judge wrote in his decision. However, the Court “cannot act on mere speculation that if the strike occurs [LAUSD] will fail to meet” requirements of a 1996 class-action lawsuit settlement called the Chanda Smith Modified Consent Decree, which installed an independent monitor to oversee LAUSD’s compliance with kids’ IEPs.
All of the legal wrangling comes days before a last-ditch meeting between LAUSD and UTLA to attempt to avert a strike UTLA has called for Thursday, three days after students return from winter break, unless all its demands are met. LAUSD has offered UTLA members a 6 percent raise and $30 million toward smaller class sizes and more hiring of nurses, counselors and librarians at the highest-need schools. LAUSD has also offered to eliminate a contract provision that allows the district to unilaterally raise class sizes and to instead create a working group to decide new class size limits.
UTLA has rejected every offer and is demanding a 6.5 percent raise and far more money to reduce class sizes and to hire a nurse, librarian and counselor at every school – demands that LAUSD says would render the district instantly insolvent, given its current level of state funding, budget deficits and threats of a takeover from county and state overseers.
LAUSD Friday reiterated an offer to allow UTLA to audit its books so it can confirm independently what has already been confirmed by two independent financial review panels and a state-appointed neutral fact finder, which is urging UTLA to take the district’s offer on salary, class sizes and hiring. UTLA said it did not find the neutral fact-finder’s report a basis for an agreement and reiterated that LAUSD must meet all its demands or face a strike.
In a letter sent Friday, Superintendent Austin Beutner asked UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl to work together with him on a plan for more state funding — something also recommended by the neutral fact finder. "Our priority has to be working with legislative leaders in Sacramento to create more resources to better support all who work in our schools,” Beutner wrote.
While the meeting is set to take place at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office Monday morning, Garcetti, who was endorsed by UTLA, said he has not been invited to attend, and earlier in the week he called a strike “all but inevitable.”
Given some uncertainty over whether a strike will actually happen, though, the judge in his ruling late Friday night said LAUSD should wait and see whether its fears about a strike’s impact on disabled kids come to fruition and then file a complaint with the Independent Monitor if they do. Caputo-Pearl called the legal wrangling a “desperate move,” while LAUSD suggested that more legal action may be coming.
“The Court did not deny any request for an injunction. The Court decided that under the applicable court rules it made more sense for the claim to be filed as a separate lawsuit rather than within the existing Chanda Smith consent decree litigation,” an LAUSD spokeswoman said in a statement. “The District is committed to resolving the contract issues with UTLA in an amicable manner, but will take all steps necessary to protect the health, safety, and educational rights of students with disabilities, as well as of all students, including the filing of legal actions.”
LAUSD was also critical of special education attorneys for students in the original Chanda Smith case, who opposed LAUSD’s efforts to protect the students. “We are dismayed that lawyers for students with special needs chose to side with UTLA against the interests of their own clients.”
Some parents of special needs students who supported the district’s efforts to keep kids safe privately questioned whether the special needs attorneys were hoping LAUSD would be unable to meet kids’ needs during a strike so they could file more lawsuits against LAUSD and generate more legal fees for themselves.
“I’m sad,” said one parent of a child with severe needs who fears for her child’s safety during a strike. “I don’t know what [else] I could say.”