LAUSD teacher strike begins after nearly 2 years of failed contract talks
Esmeralda Fabián Romero, Taylor Swaak and Laura Fay | January 14, 2019
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*Updated Jan. 15
Teachers went on strike Monday in Los Angeles for the first time in 30 years, driving down attendance at many schools as parents wrestled with whether to bring their children past picket lines — if they could afford the choice to keep them home.
Thousands of protesters weathered heavy rain to picket outside schools before heading to a march in downtown Los Angeles. Union leaders continued to call for bolstered classroom investments, while L.A. Unified re-emphasized its “desire to find a solution to the UTLA strike as soon as possible.” Online, the Twitterverse — including political figures such as Democrat U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris — seemed to largely side with the union’s efforts.
United Teachers Los Angeles on Friday rejected the district’s latest offer, which would invest $130 million to lower class sizes and add 1,200 new staff members — teachers as well as nurses, counselors and librarians. The district is offering a 3 percent raise retroactive to 2017-18 and 3 percent for this year. UTLA wants a 6.5 percent retroactive raise, a full-time nurse in every school, more special education teachers and expanded charter school oversight, among other demands.
Here’s how Day 1 of the strike unfolded in the nation’s second-largest school district.
1) Attendance fell sharply.
L.A. Unified stressed that all schools were open and students were safe and receiving instruction. But attendance was down sharply.
“All 1,240 K-12 schools are open,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said at a midmorning news briefing. “Some schools are well attended, some are less than well attended.”
In an evening news release, the district reported that 141,631 students attended. That’s less than 30 percent of enrollment. L.A. Unified this year enrolls about 480,000 students in its traditional K-12 schools.
California school districts receive state funding based on student attendance. L.A. Unified gets $68 for each student per day.
During UTLA’s nine-day 1989 teacher strike, nearly half of the district’s then-650,000 students were out of school at points.
One L.A. Unified student said she would be joining her teachers on the picket line Tuesday because she felt like she was “wasting [her] time” in school on Monday.
felt like i was wasting my time in the auditorium today; so i’m striking with the teachers tomorrow. #UTLAStrike
— Micah Alexandria (@micaaaaah__) January 14, 2019
At one school on the city’s heavily Latino east side — El Sereno Middle School — only about 25 percent of its 1,200 students were in attendance, school officials told LA School Report.
LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country. It serves just under 500,000 students.
Schools don’t know how many students will show up. This morning someone at RFK Community Schools’ gate told me she saw less than 100 students come in. pic.twitter.com/rS4c6HcnFh
— Steve Saldivar (@stevesaldivar) January 14, 2019
Los Angeles teachers strike in the rain, as some parents walk their kids into auditoriums, while others join the picket line. Attendance appeared to be sparse at some schools. pic.twitter.com/w19ZlZXOIG
— Speak UP (@SpeakUpParents) January 14, 2019
@LASchools you messed with the wrong Mama Bears…WE will not give up on our kids and expect you not to either! We are showing you as only 15% of our school was in attendance today @jennibloom @UTLAnow #utlastrong #educationisaright pic.twitter.com/ZxWoR740A5
— Kara Schertz (@kschertz) January 14, 2019
While some parents kept their kids out of school to support teachers, others said they didn’t have that luxury. “I want to support the teachers, but I have to work and my daughter has to come to school,” said Josefina, who didn’t want to give her last name, as she dropped off her daughter at Sunrise Elementary, another east side school.
Another parent arriving at the school said he didn’t know there was going to be a strike.
Standing with #LAUSD teachers today by keeping my kid home (cause I can). I support #publiceducation, I support better pay, I support parents, I support students, I support #LAUSD and #UTLA. #LAUSDStrike
— Carolina H. Malone (@CarolinaHMalone) January 14, 2019
I stand with Teachers. 2 reasons I had to shamefully cross the picket line today; my daughter is concerned about her attendance (she's in 2nd grade), and because I'm a working parent with no one to watch her. Please @LASchools, listen to our teachers. @UTLAnow
— Vanessa (@LA_woman3) January 14, 2019
I was out there with about 150 others. And only about 20 kids (out of 460) attended school. We parents are dug in for our teachers. #LAUSDStrike pic.twitter.com/mV6sk8KCpS
— Jessica Craven (@Craven7Jessica) January 14, 2019
Virginia Justice, who has a fourth-grader at Stonehurst Elementary, an L.A. Unified magnet school in Sun Valley north of downtown, said she decided not to send her son to school because she knows he wouldn’t be learning anything — and because “it wouldn’t be safe for him to be in a school while only a few people will be watching dozens of students.”
She had two children of neighbors and friends at home with her as well.
“I committed to taking care of them for the whole week if the strike continues. My husband and I both work from home, so we thought we could support other parents that must go out to work by taking care of their children,” Justice said. “I decided to keep my son home because I am in full support of the teachers.”
2) There were about 20,000 participants in UTLA’s downtown march.
LA School Police early Monday afternoon estimated the number of demonstrators who gathered at Grand Park in downtown at about 20,000.
According to School Police Chief Steven Zipperman, information from their District Operations Center and a LA City Fire Department source, the estimated number of demonstrators who gathered at Grand Park was about 20,000.#UTLAStrike pic.twitter.com/JPCe1s7kEv
— LA School Police (@LASchoolPolice) January 14, 2019
At the morning news conference, Beutner said about 3,500 people were participating in protests at schools — a number UTLA disputed. The union represents more than 30,000 teachers and other district staff.
“To me, this strike isn’t about the pay raise; it’s about the lack of respect for educators,” said Erin Sopapunta, an English teacher at Francis Polytechnic Senior High who Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles cited in a Monday news release on the strike. “No other career has such high expectations and such little resources.”
UTLA members have decried the state’s per-pupil funding — which ranks in a range of 37th to 41st to 43rd in the nation, depending on the source — and current district policies that allow class sizes to top 40 students.
.@UTLAnow A teacher sent this letter to me written by a veteran LAUSD teacher. I don't know who wrote it, but it's a powerful message on why we are striking for our students. #UTLAStrong #StrikeReady #RedForEd pic.twitter.com/qMUxeGy4Z4
— Lester Vasquez (@MrLesterVasquez) January 14, 2019
I am public school teacher in Los Angeles. Tomorrow I will be going on strike. It was not an easy decision, but public education in Los Angeles is failing students. Our schools need support. My students deserve better. #stopStarvingOurPublicSchools #UTLAStrong #StrikeReady #LAUSD
— megan alva (@AlvaMegan) January 14, 2019
L.A. Unified hired about 400 substitute teachers to fill in for striking teachers and purchased more computer-based education programs. District 4 board member Nick Melvoin told LA School Report last month the district has about 2,000 credentialed staff, such as counselors and people from the central office, who can also step in.
Frances Gipson, the district’s chief academic officer, returned to El Sereno Middle School on Monday, where she had been principal.
“We know that our teachers are the heartbeat of the school district, and we are so grateful for what they do each and every day for our students,” Gipson said. “That’s how I’m teaching today — to help support our students, our teachers, our district leaders, our parents. That’s what I’m going to do today because at the core I’m a teacher.”
#LAUSDStrike at the Metro Station! pic.twitter.com/TD12uIhiBJ
— It's All Good (@godfreyland) January 14, 2019
Biding time on the picket line! Welby Way Elementary educators, parents, students, and community supporters are out here to win the best possible public schools for L.A. students.#UTLAStrong #redfored pic.twitter.com/2BkcPwUOgE
— United Teachers Los Angeles (@UTLAnow) January 14, 2019
3) There were no safety issues reported.
Beutner said that picketing “to our knowledge has been peaceful.”
“Students are safe and learning,” he said.
Regarding safety precautions, the district told LA School Report last week: “Los Angeles School Police will assign an officer to every secondary school during the school day. LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement partners will coordinate with School Police to provide an officer at every elementary school during arrival and dismissal times. School Police will continue to provide support throughout the District, as needed.”
One tweet, however, showed strikers blocking a truck at the entrance to one school.
Strikers block a LAUSD truck from entering Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, and force it to leave. #kpcc #LAUSD #laist pic.twitter.com/ROeZ5Lcx40
— Jose Salvador (@chavatweets1) January 14, 2019
4) Charter schools were a central talking point.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl in a morning news conference re-upped his call for a cap on charter schools and stronger charter transparency and accountability. “We need to throw privatization schemes … into the trashcan right now,” he told the crowd outside Marshall High School.
There are 249 independent charter schools operating in L.A. Unified serving nearly 119,000 students. The union has repeatedly rebuked charters for luring students — and, therefore, millions in state funding — away from traditional public schools. Caputo-Pearl on Monday said funding lost to charters equates to about $600 million a year.
The call for a cap is not part of the formal union contract negotiations, but UTLA’s proposed contract does call for union involvement in the co-locations process, which is when charter schools are allotted unused classroom space on traditional school campuses under state law.
Independent charter schools were open Monday, including co-located charters. At least one, however — Excelencia Charter Academy — closed for professional development.
Tomorrow UTLA members at LAUSD-operated schools will strike. District schools will be open.
All independent LA-area charter schools will be open open, staffed, and focused on student, employee, & family safety. We hope for a quick resolution.
More here: https://t.co/OAKwKCcfXD
— Cassy Horton (@Cassy_Horton) January 14, 2019
The California Charter Schools Association said there were no significant disruptions affecting charter school campuses. “Independent charter public schools will remain open and focused on maintaining stable, high-quality learning environments throughout the strike,” CCSA said in a statement. “The safety of students, parents and staff is our top priority. We hope that LAUSD and UTLA are able to come to a quick resolution so we can shift our collective energy to the priorities that unify us. We should be marching together in Sacramento on behalf of all public schools to increase statewide funding for our most vulnerable students.”
In related news, three UTLA-affiliated charter schools, The Accelerated Schools, could start a strike of their own on the second day of UTLA’s strike. If they do, it will be the first charter school strike in L.A. and the second nationally since educators at Chicago’s Acero Schools charter network went on strike in December.
About 80 LA charter school teachers say they’re hitting the picket line January 15th if they don’t have a new contract agreement by then with the #Accelerated Schools @KNX1070 pic.twitter.com/TktGwEOfdP
— Karen Adams (@KarenKNX1070) January 10, 2019
“UTLA is seeking a radical change in the relationship between teachers and TAS, a school that was created 24 years ago to provide an alternative to parents who wanted a different schooling experience from the traditional public schools in their neighborhood,” TAS Co-Founder and CEO Johnathan Williams said in a statement. TAS “continues to hope for a reasonable resolution to negotiations that puts kids first.”
5) Politicians, celebrities & students chimed in — many supporting UTLA.
Striking teachers received support from across the United States, both in person and online.
Two prominent national teacher union leaders joined Los Angeles educators on the picket lines Monday: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.
Hanging with teachers and parents and students at John Marshal HS this am on the picket line .. #UTLAStrong #WeAreLA #red4ed pic.twitter.com/qJigdxdHMS
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) January 14, 2019
So proud to be here with all the @UTLAnow educators, parents, students and allies braving the pouring rain and fighting for the funding students deserve and need. #RedforEd #WeAreLA #UTLAStrong pic.twitter.com/Z62LwGSYIX
— Lily Eskelsen García (@Lily_NEA) January 14, 2019
Support also poured in via Twitter from numerous celebrities, progressive organizations and politicians — including a few Democrats said to be mulling presidential runs in 2020. Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement of support, “I stand with the Los Angeles teachers.” Many teachers and union leaders also shared photos of themselves wearing red in support of UTLA.
Standing in support and solidarity with Emily Reyes, another local Los Angelina and proud member of @laschools on strike for a modest wage increase but more importantly, SMALLER CLASS SIZE! Honk in support! pic.twitter.com/bgfstQM55y
— Jamie Lee Curtis (@jamieleecurtis) January 14, 2019
UFW President Teresa Romero and thousands of UFW members stand in solidarity with @UTLAnow and their strike for a fair union contract. #SiSePuede #UTLAStrong #UTLAStrike #StrikeReady pic.twitter.com/6rBt5O1qcq
— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) January 14, 2019
I stand in solidarity w/ @UTLAnow teachers in their fight for fair pay, smaller classroom sizes & stipends for materials and supplies. Teaching is one of the most valuable and indispensable professions. We need to treat educators with respect and dignity.https://t.co/NKrqvxXO3e
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 9, 2019
I support @UTLAnow & LAUSD teachers who are for fighting for better pay, smaller classes, & better resourced schools for our kids. When we fail our public school teachers, we fail their students – and we fail our future. I’m with our teachers all the way. https://t.co/jDY8wWv10u
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 14, 2019
Los Angeles teachers work day in and day out to inspire and educate the next generation of leaders. I'm standing in solidarity with them as they strike for improved student conditions, such as smaller class sizes and more counselors and librarians. https://t.co/WcUdrSOk7D
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 14, 2019
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who recently released a proposed 2019-20 budget boosting K-12 education funding, gave a more measured statement on Monday, warning that the strike was “disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families.”
“I strongly urge all parties to go back to the negotiating table and find an immediate path forward that puts kids back into classrooms and provides parents certainty,” he said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted a similar message on the eve of the strike, urging “both parties to keep working to reach an agreement as soon as possible so teachers and students can get back to the classroom.” He didn’t join the picketers Monday, but tweeted out a photo with children, saying he was closely monitoring recreational centers that were offering support. Garcetti is also considering a run for the White House.
My greatest priority is the safety of our children. I’m closely monitoring our City recreation centers and all of the services we’re offering to support our students and families during the strike. You can find more information at https://t.co/9gJ7QAD7qJ. pic.twitter.com/LIRYur4zw5
— Mayor Eric Garcetti (@MayorOfLA) January 14, 2019
New State Superintendent Tony Thurmond tweeted support for the teachers late Monday. The California Teachers Association backed him, as well as Newsom, when they were elected last fall.
Day 1 of the LA Teacher’s strike. pic.twitter.com/hAs8N6HQBu
— Tony Thurmond (@TonyThurmond) January 15, 2019
Students also chimed in on social media to back educators Monday:
Thank you to all my teachers that got me to where I am for protesting today. Thank you for the continuous sacrifices you make every single day for your students. Thank you for standing in the rain today to fight for change within LAUSD. Your hard work never goes unnoticed. ❤️
— catalina m. (@catalinamaureen) January 14, 2019
Hey everyone, LAUSD student here. I'm a junior in high school and I wanted to say that we (this includes all my peers) absolutely support our teachers! They're fighting for things like smaller class sizes and full-time nurses, things that help us more than them! (1/3)
— Avery Average (@OhStewThis) January 12, 2019
.@utlanow We interviewed LAUSD John F. Kennedy HS student Mia Medina who was fired Friday from her job doing the school's morning announcements after 3 and 1/2 yrs on the job. Why? Because she stated her support for L.A. Teachers going on strike Monday. #strikeready #UTLAstrong pic.twitter.com/UK4mQoIuxA
— MTEA (@MTEAunion) January 13, 2019
“Thank you to all my teachers that got me to where I am for protesting today,” one wrote. “Thank you for the continuous sacrifices you make every single day for your students.”
*This article has been updated to add attendance figures and Tony Thurmond tweet.