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LA teachers union leads protest at schools against Trump

Mike Szymanski | January 19, 2017

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About 400 parents, teachers and students joined union leaders at a Los Angeles elementary school on Thursday, one day before the presidential inauguration, to protest the incoming administration and to support public schools. The demonstration, called a “Shield Our Schools Action,” drew thousands throughout LA Unified, said President Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

“We are standing with parents and students against those who want to destroy public schools,” said Caputo-Pearl, who led the demonstration, held at the end of an overnight rainstorm, at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista. He noted that teachers throughout the district were holding up signs reading “Shield against…” various concerns from immigrant deportation to transgender discrimination.

More than 400 LA Unified schools participated, said Anna Bakalis, UTLA’s communications director. The protests were among hundreds held at schools nationwide as part of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which Tweeted that rallies were held in more than 200 cities.

The attendees at Grand View included National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt, SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias, NEA Vice President Cecily Myart-Cruz and LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer.

Not all those outside Grand View agreed with the demonstration. A father and his two children held an anti-protest with their own signs.

“I think the union overstepped their bounds, this is totally wrong,” said Nate Wyne, who saw a flyer in his son’s backpack last week that had been sent home by the school calling for parents to be involved Thursday. His daughter Linnea, 5, and son, Singin, 7, instead carried their own homemade signs reading: “Our students are not political props.”

“Some of my classmates’ parents voted for Trump,” said Singin, in second grade.

Wyne said he did not vote for Trump but added, “This is not how my children should be exposed to political activism. We should not have to put a fence around the school.”

The NEA’s Garcia invited Wyne and his children to join the protest and march with their signs, saying, “You can be part of our group.” The family did eventually blend in.

Another Grand View student, 6-year-old Sean Nava, begged his mother, Natalie, to make sure they got to school at least an hour early to participate in the protest.

“I told her we need to be here, it’s important,” the kindergartner said as he stood outside the school.

His mother added, “We live right across the street, but even at such an early age my son is aware how dangerous this new president is to our school and some of his friends. He is scared.”

The speakers outside Grand View voiced their opposition to Trump and his nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

“This is a sad day, the last day of the Obama Administration, and we believe the new president is not good for children,” said Garcia, who spoke about working with President Obama to change federal education policies such as No Child Left Behind, which she called “No Child Left Untested.” After the protest in LA, she was heading to New Mexico to launch a community school, where she said families are worried about undocumented immigrants being deported.

“I was shocked that Betsy DeVos could not give a straight answer or go on the record about not privatizing education,” Garcia said. “We don’t know what will happen with this new president, but we do know he is reckless. These are real children in the school standing behind me right now. The school librarian, the school nurse and the teachers are having to tell the students they will not let something bad happen to them.”

Caputo-Pearl also spoke in Spanish to the school audience, where half the school’s 644 students are English-learners, 74 percent are Latino and 67 percent are socio-economically disadvantaged. He talked about how former Mayor Richard Riordan is spending $1 million to defeat Zimmer, who is running for re-election in March.

“Steve Zimmer should take it as a badge of honor that all these billionaires are fighting against him,” Caputo-Pearl said. “Zimmer is a hero in public education.”

Zimmer said he was proud of the “amazing bilingual education program” going on at the school. “This is what public education is all about, it’s an open door for every child, not some kids, and we believe in your dreams,” Zimmer said. “We are standing against Donald Trump, against his words, against his hate.”

Speak UP, a parent organization in LA, called Thursday on Zimmer to take an even stronger stance against Trump and to stop equating charter schools with Trump. Zimmer had stated in an emailed newsletter this week that “DeVos’ philosophy of funding vouchers and charter schools has caused real and significant injury to the most vulnerable children.”

Speak UP stated in a blog post Thursday: “Equating the type of school choice we have in California with the Trump agenda is a lie.”

As in other schools across the district, there was a poster where people could write notes to Trump that would be sent in a Tweetstorm as #SchoolTrump.

Parent speaker Sharon Savene said, “I chose to come to Grand View, it was my choice. We have choices at LAUSD. We need janitors, nurses and teachers. We don’t need another school. We don’t need to privatize roads, so we don’t need to privatize schools.”

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