LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles public school teachers are on the picket line instead of in their classrooms Monday as they begin their first strike in 30 years.
The massive action, which comes after 20 months of failed negotiations between United Teachers Los Angeles and the school district, impacts nearly a half-million students at more than 900 schools.
Schools are open during the strike, but with a bare-bones staff that some parents say can’t adequately supervise their children. To replace more than 30,000 striking teachers and staff members, the district has hired about 400 nonunion substitute teachers and has dispersed 2,000 credentialed central office staff members to classrooms. School administrators and school police officers also will be working, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The union’s demand for reduced class sizes (some classes have more than 40 students) and more support staff are at the heart of the negotiations. The union also seeks a 6.5-percent raise, but union leaders say salary is only one piece of a puzzle. They also point to such shortfalls as elementary schools only having a school nurse one or two days a week, which the union says risks children’s safety.
On Friday, the district presented the union with an offer that included a 6-percent raise over two years, a commitment to hire 1,200 new positions for one year, and a pledge to reduce class sizes. Union leaders quickly rebuffed the offer, saying it did not go far enough.
The walkout is sure to impact all corners of the nation’s second-largest school district.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of public education,” union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a press conference Sunday.
Some parents are keeping their children home in solidarity with teachers, or taking them to join their teachers on the picket line. Others don’t have such options as they head off to work.
Cindy Goodale works from home in software support, and is keeping her two elementary-aged kids home with her. She’s offered to watch her children’s classmates during the strike.
Goodale said she supports the teacher’s demands. Her kids have been injured several times at school without a nurse present, she said.
“The office staff are the ones that have to take care of your kid’s injury and that’s not really fair to them, either,” Goodale told HuffPost.
Cheyanne, a high school senior whose last name isn’t being published to protect her privacy, said she will be protesting with her teachers during the strike, even though the district says absences will be unexcused.
“I feel like it’s not just about the teachers, it’s about everyone,” Cheyanne said.
The strike follows months of teacher-led protests in red states like Kansas, Arizona and West Virginia. This strike, though, hits a deep-blue state with Democratic leadership. The Oakland Unified School District in northern California also is bracing for a potential strike.
In the backdrop of the LA strike are tensions around the growth of charter schools, which are publicly funded but often privately operated. The walkout spotlights long-simmering conflicts within the Democratic Party about the role of charter schools.
“This conflict is forcing the issue of school privatization and charter schools in the Democratic Party,” Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions, previously told HuffPost.
Still, schools superintendent Austin Beutner maintains he has repeatedly presented the union with fair offers.
“This represents the best we can do, recognizing that it is our obligation to provide as much resources as possible to support out students in each and every one of our schools,″ Beutner said on Friday.