A day after unions representing both teachers and support staff announced a three-day strike beginning Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District was scrambling to prepare for the impending closure of 1,000 campuses, at the same while trying to avoid the massive strike.
School work will not be graded. Breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner may be provided for children from low-income families, from somewhere yet to be determined. Child care? That will be a challenge. Nonprofit groups across the city are rushing to help, but they won’t fill the void.
“We are trying to see if we can minimize the consequences of a three-day strike for people for whom schools provide food and child care as well as education,” said school board president Jackie Goldberg. “We are not sure that we can do it. But we are not going to stop trying because we have four or five days to work on it”.
There is much to do, and much that will not be feasible.
Unable to ensure the supervision and safety of children with up to 65,000 workers on strike, the district said it must close schools to students. The first-time strike by the district’s two largest unions includes teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, gardeners, custodians, and teacher aides.
However, the campuses will be open to employees who want to work. They will be paid; the strikers will not. Keeping campuses open will also provide support for students and parents who come in with problems.
“We’re not going to leave anyone out,” Goldberg said. “Everyone will make their own decision.”
If enough employees choose to work Tuesday, the school system could reevaluate whether it could provide supervision and meals on campus for Wednesday, he added.
Goldberg said he remained optimistic that a strike could be avoided if negotiations with the two striking unions, United Teachers Los Angeles and Local 99 of Service Employees International, were advanced.
“UTLA will negotiate with us starting (Friday) morning,” Goldberg said Thursday. “And if that goes well, they may be able to encourage their partner in all of this to come back to the table. So I remain optimistic, cautiously, but optimistic.”
The teachers union is seeking a 20% raise over two years, but has a detailed, long range platform that includes guaranteed support for a special initiative for black students and housing for low-income families.
Local 99 officials deny that they stopped negotiating, but as of Thursday night they had not scheduled talks before Tuesday’s strike.
The union said it is waiting for state labor officials to set up an investigative panel as part of the bargaining process. If LA Unified wants to start talks before then, the district would have to agree to the union’s demand for a 30% raise plus an additional $2-an-hour raise for the lowest-paid workers, CEO Max Arias said.
District officials are making contingency plans to provide homework, food, and supervision.
Throughout the school system, principals held online meetings Thursday using a slide deck provided by the central office.
Parents learned that students would be given a computer to use at home, if they don’t already have one. Teachers should send home pencil and paper packets for children in second grade and younger. School websites will be populated with links to grade-appropriate general school work developed by the school district.
Goldberg said it’s crucial that teachers prepare appropriate work for students, and they still have time to do so before the work stoppage.
“Things can change at any time,” an administrator at the elementary school told parents, adding that the school’s website would be updated day and night.
At a school presentation, concerned parents wanted to know: Will the strike last more than three days? Will lost days be made up?
The strike is scheduled for a fixed duration, but there is no guarantee of an agreement by the time it ends.
There are no plans to make up the missed days, although the district encourages parents to sign up for the optional extra learning time already scheduled for April 3 and 4, the first two days of spring break.
Administrators also stated that academic work provided during the strike would not count toward a student’s grade, several parents said.
“The slides included all the wealth of academic ties to work that kids ‘could’ do because you don’t want them sitting around without work,” said Reseda-area parent Frankie Bean at a parent group in Facebook. “Simply put, it is NOT a replacement for the work assigned by your beloved teachers. It’s a hectic job and I’m so grateful to our (assistant principal) for telling us parents it wasn’t required.”
Bean added: “More propaganda from the district to make teachers look bad. ‘Hey kids, your teachers don’t care about you or your education, but look at these treats we made for YOU, because WE care about you.’
The district asked Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and other city officials for help.
The hope is that the city can quickly ramp up programs that normally run during the summer, when most students are out of school. During the summer, these programs provide meals, activities, and supervision.
“The mayor is closely monitoring the situation and is engaged with all parties involved,” Bass spokesman Zach Seidl said.
Rose Watson, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, said her agency is considering opening up to 22 recreation centers across the city for all-day activities.
Those locations would operate from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It will be like what we did during COVID, where we provided services where we could help them with assigned tasks,” Watson said.
Goldberg said the district would try to provide food to these centers, though food service workers are represented by Local 99.
The school system extends well beyond the Los Angeles city limits, so potential collaboration extends to other cities and county agencies.
The county Department of Parks and Recreation plans to provide all-day recreation at 16 of its parks, said Liz Odendahl, a spokeswoman for Supervisor Janice Hahn.
Goldberg said the childcare issue would be the most challenging.
At the southern end of the district, the leaders of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Port of Los Angeles have decided to provide programming (arts, music, sports, and academics) throughout the day at their six non-school sites in San Pedro, Wilmington, and other nearby neighborhoods.
On the three days of the strike, the gates would open at 8 a.m. instead of 2:30 p.m., said Mike Lansing, a former Los Angeles school board member and executive director of the group. During the day breakfast, lunch and snack would be offered.
“We are trying to get ahead of this, to be able to help the families that normally count on us,” he said.
But he admitted there would be limitations.
“We can’t take everyone,” Lansing said. “We just don’t have the capacity. But anyone who is a member will be able to come for free,” he said. Annual memberships are $25.
On the east side of Los Angeles, the nonprofit organization downtown fight plans to open its community center on Whittier Boulevard in Boyle Heights, providing educational activities, homework support, and meals (breakfast, lunch, and snacks) throughout the day.
Executive Director Henry Perez said the impact of a strike will be felt strongest in the district’s low-income neighborhoods.
“I think parents right now are struggling to figure out what are they going to do with their kids, both in terms of child care and in terms of academics — the loss of learning time and academic support,” she said.
A teacher leader at Playa Vista primary school sent an alert to parents that she thought the strike could last longer and said students at the school would receive 10-day learning packets.
That school community, in a more affluent neighborhood, is looking for “fee-based” child care that could be provided.
Groups across the district “are considering opening up for services for three days,” said Ana Teresa Dahan, CEO of local education advocacy group GPSN. But there are “concerns about being able to do the same if the situation continues to escalate.”
“People are in a difficult situation who want to support students and families, but don’t want to relieve anyone of the responsibility and pressure to resolve this situation,” he added.