“Students are absolutely behind the teachers. Eighty percent of students in LAUSD are not going to school in support of teachers. Teachers fight for us, so we are fighting for them; they’re the ones educating us, not the district,” said Samantha, a high school student at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, where LAUSD teachers are now marking the third day of a massive strike, the union’s first in 30 years, to defend public education.
“The district is trying to make us not support them by telling us the strike will affect our grade, but it won’t. It’s not cool to lie to students.”
The past three days have seen tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students staffing picket lines and pouring into the streets of Los Angeles. The Jan. 14 march of 50,000 from City Hall to LAUSD headquarters, and an equally massive one on Jan. 15 to the California Charter School Association’s offices in downtown LA, effectively shut down that area of the city for several hours each day. Instead of one central action, UTLA chose to have its members disperse across the city on Jan. 16, with rallies spread across Los Angeles’s different regions.
Over at the picket line outside Second Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights, morale continued to be strong, despite a third day of stormy and gray weather. The teachers at the elementary school spoke of their resentment towards policies that have forced their underfunded public school to share a campus with the Extera Charter School, where public funds are being siphoned into an unregulated, privately managed company to the detriment of the district.
“It’s beyond frustrating that we have to plan our activities for certain days, certain times, certain hours, or not have them at all, because we are bound to share our school space with a charter school. It’s bad enough that they’re pulling money out of our school district. Let them find their own location. Let them get out of our schools and get somewhere else, hopefully out of California completely,” UTLA representative and Special Education teacher Rananah Lubovitch told Liberation News.
The systematic under-funding of public education has meant not merely that teachers are underpaid and overworked, but additionally that there are very few school nurses, psychiatrists, and librarians available to students. Class sizes are huge (California ranks 48 out of 50 states for faculty-student ratio), funding is scarce for undocumented students and for special education, and quality of education is diminished by the presence of dozens of standardized tests that students must take every year. School counselors complain of having to be on call for as many as 1,300 children at a time, while nurses and librarians are often available at each school only once a week.
Alex, a junior at Los Angeles High, said “I think high school is really traumatizing. I think we need the right to see a psychologist. We don’t have anyone to talk to.”
“This is not about a big paycheck”, Lubovitch told Liberation News. “Although the district likes to make it seem as such, that’s not the apex of what is happening out here. I’m here because 15 years ago, when I began teaching at this school, there was a librarian here five days a week. There was an assistant principal in charge of special education five days a week. There was a psychologist five days a week. A nurse five days a week. All of these positions are now one to one and a half days per week. Our assistant principal, who’s in charge of our most vulnerable students, has three different schools that she has to attend to. It’s not right and it’s not what our students deserve.”
After months of negotiations, District Superintendent Austin Beutner’s concessions to the teachers have thus far proposed the addition of only one extra staff member for every school in the district, and only for a provisional one-year period. With Beutner turning up to only one of three bargaining meetings last week, UTLA moved to strike this Monday.
“How do we choose? Do we choose to have the nurse here five days a week? Do we choose to have the psychologist here five days a week, in case some of our most vulnerable students are in need? Our kids deserve it all.”
Despite the lack of direct communication from LAUSD to the union, and the district’s obvious attempts to pit students against teachers, threatening disciplinary action and affected grades, students have been overwhelmingly supporting the teachers’ struggle. So has the Los Angeles community as a whole, with a Loyola Marymount University study indicating 80 per cent public support. After hours of picketing, thousands of teachers, students and parents were part of the regional rallies across Los Angeles.
Looking at any major news outlet, you’re likely to get a different story. A New York Times article published on the first day of the strike issued an insincere plea for the students being “deprived” of their education during the strike, ignoring the majority of students who joined their teachers on picket lines. This Wednesday morning, Forbes published an article attacking the teachers for making salaries just above the LA median wage, ignoring the high and rising cost of living in LA, and the massive student debts aspiring teachers take on.
At the rallies themselves, the lack of television crews was clear and telling. What was televised were LAUSD press conferences in which administrative officials like Beutner rubbished the teachers’ demands and gave dishonest estimates of 3,500 striking teachers, when in fact almost all of UTLA’s 33,000 strong membership is on a picket line this week.
“It’s not about the money for us, it’s about quality education for our students. Anything that says otherwise is misinformation.” – Julia Bare, a biology teacher at Venice High School.
In a 24-hour news cycle where chaotic events equal clicks and high ratings, why are news outlets not covering 50,000 people bringing Los Angeles to a grinding halt? As we go into day four of the strike, the capitalist media’s silence is a clear sign of the effect this strike has had so far.
“I think this is history in the making because the last one was in 1989. That’s 30 years ago. So, the fact that we’re here now supporting them at this rally, and this time, for all these students for being here is phenomenal. – Gabriel, a senior at Los Angeles High School.