The looming strike of some 30,000 L.A. school teachers–the first strike of its kind since 1989–raises lots of questions for students, parents, and concerned observers. What exactly is going to happen when the bell rings on Monday and members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union aren’t there? Will students be asked to cross picket lines? Here’s what you need to know.
Are schools open during a teacher’s strike?
Every school will be open as normal and students are expected to be in attendance, just like any other day. According to the district, school hours should remain unchanged, but in the event that individual schools deviate at all from their usual schedules, notifications will be sent out to parents to advise them of the change. Children who receive meals at school will continue to have them available. Regularly scheduled after-school programs will continue as well. Sports games and practices, however, will be called off.
What will be happening in the schools while the teachers aren’t there?
While students might be hoping for all-day recess, that probably won’t be the case. There will be substitutes providing “instructional programs” for all students. That may not look quite the same as typical classwork, though. It’s likely that classes will be combined into large groups and instruction will be held in places like auditoriums, and may incorporate video screenings or online learning materials.
Deputy superintendent Vivian Ekchain put it this way in an interview on KPCC: “Now, will it be like any other day of the year? Probably not. But will we make sure our most prized possessions, our students, are kept safe and comfortable and learning? Absolutely.”
To fill in for the 30,000 striking teachers, substitutes will be deployed across all LAUSD schools. There are 400 non-union substitute teachers, plus an additional 2,000 administrators and staff employed by the district, many of whom who hold teaching credentials but are not classroom teachers.
The option exists for the district to bring on an additional 4,400 substitutes from private placement agencies. Those contractors don’t come cheap, though. The Los Angeles Times reports that a contract sub could make between $227 and $385 a day, depending on the role they take over and the agency that places them; in-house subs for those same roles make only $167.12 to $190.
One of the biggest challenges will be in serving students with special needs. LAUSD initially filed a claim to prevent special education teachers (and anyone else involved with special ed programs) from striking along with other educators, but that was thrown out in court. It isn’t entirely clear how the district intends to fulfill Individualized Education Plan requirements for students who have them in place. Substitutes who are trained in special ed will be deployed to schools with the largest populations of students who need them, but Ekchain herself admitted to being “concerned” about making sure IEP guidelines are followed during the strike.
But, if you support striking teachers, should you send your kid to class?
The official line from LAUSD is that students who stay home from school during the strike will be considered truant, and that could adversely impact their academic records. That puts families who support the teachers’ demands in a difficult position. Going to class may also mean crossing picket lines, which are set to be organized by parents and community members at designated schools in each of the district’s eight sub-regions. Some parents, particularly of younger children, have reported they may keep their children out of school until the strike is resolved.
The decision to attend or not may be most challenging for lower-income families who lack childcare during the day or may be food insecure and rely on subsidized school meals. Across the district, around 80 percent of students qualify for meal programs. To support families and teachers who need food during the strike, several community drives have sprung up, including one in San Pedro which, the Daily Breeze reports, already has 1,500 sack lunches ready to distribute when the strike begins.
For students who opt not to show up to class, other L.A. institutions are doing what they can. The Natural History Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, and La Brea Tar Pits will all offer free general admission to LAUSD students and their chaperones during the strike. The education department at the Petersen will also rev up, offering daily STEAM-oriented lessons for kids from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. Metro will also provide free rides to student ID-holders from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays for the duration of the strike, in an effort to help those staying home from school to use the time for other kinds of enrichment activities.
What can parents do to help and stay informed?
It’s recommended you update your contact information in the LAUSD database to insure you’ll get notifications about any changes at your child’s school. The district also has a Twitter account, @LASchools, where it will post updates. United Teachers of Los Angeles also has its own updates at @UTLAnow.
If parents are interested in volunteering to help out at their local school, the school board approved an easing in the background check and fingerprinting requirements that are typically in place. This relaxing of rules only applies to parents and legal guardians of school children, however, not the general public, and on-boarding of new volunteers will remain at the discretion of individual school principals.
The school district is also offering a telephone hotline at (213) 443-1300 which can answer some questions (but don’t be surprised if you get transferred around a bit looking for info).
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