LOS ANGELES ― Decked out in rain boots, ponchos and umbrellas, tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets of Los Angeles on Monday in a fight for the future of the city’s schools.
Groups of teachers, wearing red in solidarity with the Red for Ed movement, could be seen all over the city, taking shelter under storefronts as heavy rain poured down or congregating on street corners and getting supplies for the day’s events. In the morning, educators picketed in front of their schools with megaphones, cheering when passing cars honked in support. In the early afternoon, tens of thousands marched on City Hall, sometimes alongside parents, students and friendly community members. The march was a sea of red enthusiasm, complete with deafening cheers, topical costumes and damp signs.
It was day one of the first teachers strike in Los Angeles in 30 years. And it was big, wet and loud.
The strike comes after 21 months of failed negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which is battling for smaller class sizes, increased support staff and pay raises. It comes only months after statewide teacher strikes in red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. But action in the second-largest school district in the country could be equally influential.
Los Angeles public schools have nearly half a million students and over 30,000 teachers. By comparison, there are only around 20,000 public school teachers in all of West Virginia.
Union leaders have framed the fight as one for the future of public education. But for teachers on the ground, it’s about getting day-to-day help so they might be able to pay more individual attention to their students.
Sandra Marin-Lares is a psychiatric social worker for the district. Just several years ago, she was assigned to a single school, allowing her to build a sustained rapport with students and families. But last year, she covered three schools. Now she spends her week shuttling between four of them.
“A lot of the kids, when we get to the school, they’re like, ‘We needed to talk to you the other day but you weren’t here,’” said Marin-Lares, who has worked in the district for 10 years. “It’s not enough.”
Just last Friday, she met with an elementary school student she believes may be suicidal. But on Monday, Marin-Lares went on strike. The school leaders, who are not specifically trained to deal with such issues, are now in charge of making sure students, including that child, get the help they need.
Marin-Lares says she’s striking for that child and for others in similar situations.
Other teachers who have their own children in the district are striking as both educators and parents.
Laura Mazur teachers four-year-old students in the district. While she and her co-workers describe their workplace, Third Street School, as relatively affluent compared to many others, it still only employs a nurse for half of a single school day. Sick children are sent to an office staffed by secretaries, who split their time between supervising kids and doing their jobs.
Mazur’s child once spent an hour throwing up alone in the office at school. Office staff were present but occupied with other matters.
“It’s not their job and it should not be their job,” said Mazur while taking shelter from the rain in a cafe with colleagues after marching on City Hall.
The district has kept schools open during the strike and encouraged parents to send their students to school. In a statement, officials said that at least around 141,000 students showed up Monday, although not all schools reported attendance numbers. School buses saw nearly 40 percent of average daily ridership, according to officials.
The district hired around 400 non-unionized substitute teachers to replace the more than 30,000 striking teachers. Some parents sent their kids to school by way of necessity. After Monday, some won’t be going back.
Liza Valenzuela sent her fourth-grader to school at Marianna Elementary on Monday because he asked to go. Valenzuela takes classes at night and has the ability to stay home with her son, but he was under the impression that you should only stay home if you’re very sick ― and she didn’t want to disabuse him of such a notion.
They’re going to discuss tonight whether he’ll be going back.
“He was adamant about coming,” she said, recalling apologetically passing his teacher on the picket line.
Yeraldy Jackson also sent her son to school at Marianna, even though she is a school aide and has been striking. She wanted to see what it would be like for him ― whether or not there would be any learning happening.
Instead, she found out that he spent most of the day in the auditorium with other students. He won’t be going back.
“I was like wow, for LA Unified to allow this. To not have people to teach them, and still ask us to bring them to school? So they could collect their money. There’s no point,” Jackson said.