Like most parents in the nation’s second-largest school district, Marianne Webster was shocked to learn of the planned mass strike to shut down public schools in Los Angeles for three days next week.
He was even more surprised to learn about it from his third grader.
“When I picked him up, he said, ‘The teachers are going on strike,’” said the mother of four, whose two oldest sons attend 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena, where 70% of the students take the bus to the campus and 100% get free lunch. “I said, ‘That?!‘”
For bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher aides and custodians in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the three-day strike has been months in the making as they stand firm in their demand for a 30% pay increase. Few outside of Service Employees International Union Local 99 took notice, however, until the United Teachers of Los Angeles announced late last week that its members would be walking alongside them.
Days later, most parents were just finding out.
“What do you mean they’re not going to school for three days?” 186th Street Elementary School parent Edith Castillo recalled thinking to herself when she saw the big union rally in Grand Park on the news Wednesday night.
That question was apparently asked thousands of times outside hundreds of schools in Los Angeles this week when parents first got the news, then traded speculation and rumors. Many said they were surprised by the sudden closures. Many more struggled to believe that it would actually happen.
“I don’t think they really do,” said Cajuan Banks, 42, as she picked up her two young children from Crescent Heights Elementary School in Picfair Village on Wednesday afternoon.
But others couldn’t take the risk. As the reality of the strike sank in Friday, working parents scrambled to secure spots in tentative programs set up by the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, or to cooperate with friends and family.
Others scrambled to rearrange their schedules and budget for a way to do without the wages they would have earned.
“I’m going to have to stop working if they’re going to stay home,” said Crescent Heights mother Erika Aguilar, 35, who works at a bakery in Beverly Hills. “Right now everything is so expensive, it’s going to be very difficult.”
Hunger was also on the top of the mind. District spokeswoman Shannon Haber said administrators were rushing to finalize plans for the takeout meals. But how that would happen without the thousands of Local 99 food service workers was still being worked out when the firing bell rang Friday afternoon.
In a district where most students eat breakfast and lunch at school and many take dinner home, parents spent the weekend wondering how they would feed their children for the week ahead.
El Sereno Elementary parent Joshua Tamases, 54, has been following the news of the school closure with fear and disbelief.
Earlier this month, the single father of two suffered a major blow when his CalFresh benefits were cut by about $100 because some of the COVID-19 aid was not renewed. The prospect of feeding his children breakfast and lunch for a few unforeseen days means tightening the belt more.
“We are going to do more with less,” Tamases said at the dismissal on Thursday. “With the way the economy is and inflation, everything seems to be getting more and more difficult.”
But the frustration extended far beyond food and childcare.
For many, the three-day walkout was a bitter reminder of their children’s school setbacks, how they have been left behind both socially and academically following the pandemic’s extended campus closures and a difficult return to classrooms.
Last year, half of all LAUSD students were chronically absent. This year, more than 150,000 California public school students disappeared altogether, many more than switching to private schools or homeschooling, while a “tripledemic” of flu, COVID-19 and RSV kept thousands of children newly unmasked and immunologically naive little ones sick at home for days at a time.
Now, principals were sending home 10 days of schoolwork for what parents had been told was a three-day break. The move was meant to give families flexibility, the district spokeswoman said. But some parents reacted with alarm. Three days was bearable, perhaps. But an indefinite hiatus less than a month after the mid-winter break and just a week before the start of spring break felt existential.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” said Castillo, whose first grader is just learning to read. “My main concern is that he will fall behind, especially in reading and writing,” skills children need to master by age 9 to avoid falling behind in other subjects, experts say.
El Sereno Elementary School mother Teresa Aguilar, 38, was equally disappointed that a school district still reeling from learning setbacks from the pandemic was putting itself in a position to deliver “more valuable learning time.” .
“The children have not recovered from the last break and now we will send them home again,” he said. “It may only be three days, but that’s a lot.”
In reality, three days is much longer for some students than others. A magnet school senior may not mind staying home awaiting college admissions decisions, while a young deaf child assisted by a district magnet program might languish in isolation from his fluent teachers. american sign language.
But for the district’s younger parents, pregnant teens, and teen moms attending McAllister High Schoola strike means losing both your instructional hours and your child care.
For these student-parents, “time is ticking all the time,” said one teacher.
“Time is ticking for you to finish school. Time is ticking for you to learn English. Time is running out for you to discover how to defend yourself and your son,” explained teacher Tanya Reyes. “Now you are a student and a mother.”
For her students, Reyes said, each day outside of the classroom is one day closer to delivery, or the day their babies go from docile babies to demanding toddlers.
But she believes her school can’t attract the bilingual assistants it needs unless Local 99 gets the pay raise the workers are striking for.
And despite the latest news about school closures and widespread anxiety, many parents agree with her.
“I agree 100%,” said dad Gio Rangel, 29, who works for UPS and is part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “If we don’t have a contract by August, we’ll be on strike ourselves.”
According to a recent Loyola-Marymount poll, nearly 80% of Los Angeles parents said they would support a teacher strike if labor negotiations failed, though those interviewed Wednesday and Thursday estimated support for the next strike is near. at 50%.
That would be a stark contrast to the six-day teachers’ strike in 2019, when tens of thousands of parents kept their children at home even as classrooms stayed open, with the same workers who led the walkout on Tuesday.
The difference, said Jessica Aguilera, 34, is that families four years ago had more time to prepare.
“This time, a lot of parents don’t know,” the mother of three explained as she waited for dismissal at 153rd Street Elementary School in Gardena on Thursday. She “was handing out flyers and they were totally in the dark.”
With so little warning, many parents found their solidarity worn thin.
“I really don’t agree with the strike, three days is a long time, but these workers are doing double duty,” said Yazmin Hernandez, 32, a mother at 186th Street Elementary School, as she filled bags with crayons, scissors, pencils and glue. for students to take home. “The district is not giving them the benefits that they should. They go above and beyond and get nothing in return.”
For her, understanding had an expiration date.
“Three days we can take it, maybe,” he said. “But more than three days, no.”