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Analysis: Here we go again — L.A. adds instructional days to fight learning loss, union balks

Mike Antonucci | April 10, 2023

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April 3 and 4 marked the last two of four “acceleration days” for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The optional extra tutoring was designed to help make up for instruction lost during COVID school closures.

Of course, things didn’t work out as planned. United Teachers Los Angeles voted to boycott the extra days. Then, after negotiations, the district rescheduled them for winter and spring breaks, irking SEIU Local 99, the union representing school support workers. And whatever benefit the extra days might have brought was undone by the three-day walkout organized by both unions March 21 to 23.

One would think that, going forward, the district might try a different approach to adding instructional days, and that the teachers union might consider a different response.

But who are we kidding?

Last week, the L.A. school board approved the district calendar for the next three years. “The new instructional calendars address the need to mitigate learning loss by shortening the winter recess and extending options for summer programming,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. The plan is to shorten the three-week winter break to two weeks.

The seven-member school board unanimously approved the changes, and the press release includes positive comments from five of them. It also states that the district “undertook an extensive process of gathering input through surveys, focus groups and presentations from families, staff and labor partners.”

Unfortunately for Carvalho and the board, those surveys, focus groups and input from labor partners all indicated an overwhelming preference for a three-week winter break.

The district justified the change on the grounds that three weeks off “creates challenges for our neediest families that must be considered in decision-making.” Also, most large districts in other states have a two-week break, as do most districts in southern California.

Not one to overlook an opportunity for activism, the teachers union immediately filed an unfair labor practice charge, created a Twitter hashtag and ramped up an organizing drive against the change.

“School calendar changes are mandatory subjects of bargaining and UTLA leadership immediately sent a demand to bargain to the district,” reads a statement on the union website. “This calendar move exemplifies Carvalho’s refusal to bargain in good faith and his willful disdain of worker rights. By openly disregarding labor law and ignoring the voices of parents and staff, Carvalho continues to prove that he is not a leader. The school board’s approval demonstrates a failure to hold Carvalho accountable.”

A district representative told EdSource that calendar dates are “at the sole discretion of the superintendent and the Board of Education,” and that the district held two meetings to discuss the calendar with its unions — but UTLA sent a representative to only one.

Carvalho and the board seem to have learned nothing from their previous encounter on this issue and are blithely waving the red cape in front of the charging bull. The union will gore them again, but one wonders how often it can continue to place itself on the side of less school versus more.

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays at The 74.

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