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21 black pastors call on UTLA to return to the table to end LAUSD teacher strike because ‘the fortunes of African-American children do not improve on a picket line’

Esmeralda Fabián Romero and Laura Fay | January 16, 2019

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Some of the 21 African-American pastors who signed the letter include, from left, Pastor Torrey Collins of St. Rest Friendship Church, Pastor Al Johnson of Divine Direction, Rev. K.W. Tulloss of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church, Bishop Harrington McFrazier of New Beginnings Church and Pastor Nathaniel Haley of United Christians Missionary Baptist Church. (Photo: Rev. Danone Williams)

*Updated Jan. 16

Nearly two dozen African-American pastors urged United Teachers Los Angeles to return to the negotiating table because “the fortunes of African-American children do not improve on a picket line.”

The letter, dated Tuesday, was addressed to UTLA’s President Alex Caputo-Pearl and released by L.A. Unified on Wednesday.

“While we support the exercise of your member’s First Amendment rights and utilization of the protections afforded employees under California law, negotiators should be at the table crafting a solution to end the strike,” the letter states.

Late Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that both parties will resume negotiations at noon Thursday at City Hall. A UTLA official stated that new State Superintendent Tony Thurmond also had been in touch with both parties and offered support. The Los Angeles Times reported that Caputo-Pearl called for the strike to continue and for members to rally Friday in downtown Los Angeles.

The letter is signed by 21 pastors at churches, mainly located in South Los Angeles, including Grace Temple Missionary Church and United Christian Missionary Baptist Church, and Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in Boyle Heights, whose pastor, K.W. Tulloss, this week was elected president of the Baptist Ministers Conference Los Angeles.

“We just want folks to come together,” Tulloss said Wednesday.

Tulloss stressed that “we’re on the side of both,” adding his own children are not crossing the picket lines. “The reality is there are no sides. We’re on the side of the students and the teachers. We believe the teachers deserve what’s best and what’s right for them to receive. People are protesting a lot of different issues that we shouldn’t even be focusing on.”

Parents are suffering, he said, “because they don’t want to cross the picket line but need childcare. “It’s all coming at the expense of the kids. Kids are losing out on valuable education.”

The Rev. John Cager of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church, who wrote the letter, said Wednesday, “We are not opposed to the strike. I think we all agree that the teachers’ goals are admirable. What we question is the strategy of not negotiating while you’re out on strike because you can’t solve any problems by not talking.”

He said before writing the letter, he spoke with teachers in the church “and all of them agree that the strike was necessary, and all of them agree that the union should go back to negotiations.”

Cager said his community’s main concern was who would take care of the students and the loss of learning.

“We want our schools to work better. Los Angeles should be a model school district, and we want the parties to do whatever is necessary to get both sides talking again and get a resolution,” said Cager, who grew up in Cleveland but whose now-adult children, and his wife, attended L.A. Unified schools. When one son needed special education services, Cager said it was so difficult to get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for him that he had to go to Sacramento to fight for it.

In the letter, the pastors expressed their concern about how the strike would impact African-American students’ achievement.

“How are seniors transitioning out of school, 8th graders going to high school, 5th graders going to middle school, kindergarteners going to 1st grade, special needs students, and parents with children in state preschool going to make up time lost in a protracted work stoppage of their instructors?”

L.A. Unified serves about 38,500 black students, making up 7.7 percent of district enrollment. Last year their graduation rate rose to 76 percent, higher than the district’s average of 73.6 percent, but their state test scores continued to lag district averages. On the state tests, 31.7 percent of blacks met or exceeded reading standards, compared to 42 percent for all L.A. Unified, and only 20 percent met math standards, compared to 32 percent districtwide.

Based on the 2017 California School Dashboard ratings for L.A. Unified, an analysis by Parent Revolution, an L.A.-based parent advocacy nonprofit, found that only five schools in the district earned a green or blue rating for African-American students in both English language arts and math. The dashboard is the state’s accountability tool for schools and uses colors ranging from blue at the top end to red at the lowest end.

“African-American children are at the bottom of most when it comes to testing and things of that matter,” Tulloss said. “There is a concern, and ultimately I think it’s going to take the community, teachers, district all coming together trying to develop some real strategic plan to help raise test scores and the success of African-American students throughout California.”

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, executive vice president of Community Coalition, which advocates for educational equity in Los Angeles, said, “When I read the letter, I saw a declaration from black clergy that they’re concerned about the education of our children. And we really believe that it is important to call out that African-American students are suffering from poor-quality education and that when you look at the achievement gap at the LAUSD, black children are the ones that are the most greatly impacted, which is why we want to see a resolution quickly.”

Concerns about learning loss were also raised in a letter Wednesday addressed to Caputo-Pearl from the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization in the San Fernando Valley.

“As the teachers’ strike enters its third day, VICA is increasingly concerned about the harm being done to our students as they miss critical instruction. This time of year is of utmost importance to students whose start in life and their careers depends on succeeding at school and in their exams.”

Faith Wroten, a black parent who has two high school students in ninth- and 10th-grades at Jordan High School, said she appreciates the pastors’ push for renewed negotiations between the union’s leadership and the district so the strike can be ended because it’s been “upsetting” for her.

Wroten is in the process of getting her teaching credential while working full time and has not sent her kids to school since the beginning of the strike because she said she knew “they will be learning nothing.”

“I am all for the end of the strike. This is no longer about the kids,” she said. “I understand that teachers need to get paid better, they have to eat. However, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the kids,” Wroten said.

She said her main worry is how far her kids are falling behind academically, especially because they are high schoolers and the learning time lost will not be recovered and could impact their preparation for college. “Do you know? Because I don’t know how they will make up for all this time the students have not been learning anything,” she said.

“They’re supposed to be learning and they’re not. They’re already in a deficit by being in an inner-city school. Every minute they’re in school learning something counts,” she said. “I hate that it has been already three days! I’m having a hard time understanding how the heck they’re going this far.”

Cager said, “For many of us, I know at my church and at most of the churches of the pastors who are listed we have special prayer, for the South L.A. pastors in particular. We are impacted more by the strike than most of the areas of the city because largely the students who are in L.A. Unified are students of color, they’re not from the highest-income neighborhoods. And the strike impacts the families of our church.”

Tulloss said, “Ultimately, our children are suffering, but we’re not crossing that picket line, so when it comes down to it, we have a lot of services being provided from the city and things of that matter, but it’s nothing like getting down and getting a good and decent education from our world-class teachers in LAUSD. We want to continue to support all of our teachers, but the reality is we need members of all parties at the table.”

*This article has been updated with talks resuming Thursday.

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