A tentative deal between UTLA and the Board of Eduction was struck on Tuesday, January 22, ending the six-day teachers’ strike pending approval of teachers and the Board of Education. The negotiation logjam and resulting teachers’ strike kept 600,000 students out of school and cost $125 million in lost revenue. Teachers returned to their classrooms on Wednesday.
I have been teaching for 39 years and this past week was, by far, the most exhausting and exhilarating week I can remember for a long time. We, the members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), went on strike for the first time since 1989.
We began the week picketing at our school sites and then drove to Grand Park downtown for a rally and march to LAUSD headquarters. The size of the crowd was daunting and enthusiasm was high. Helicopters and drones flew overhead and there was a strong media presence and motivating chants punctuated by horns, drums, cowbells and bullhorns.
The crowd size was estimated at 50,000 including teachers, school nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, retired teachers, adult education teachers, substitute teachers, psychiatric social workers, parents, and students. In the afternoon, we returned to our schools to picket at dismissal time. At Topanga Elementary Charter School, attendance was low, about 10 percent of the students came to school the first day of the strike.
The second day of the strike, after morning picketing, we headed downtown to the California Charter School Association offices at San Pedro and First Street. We had a massive crowd covering more than two blocks. We couldn’t get close to the stage, but there were speakers and musicians to motivate the crowd. Unregulated Charter Schools are one of the bargaining points, especially private, for-profit Charter Schools and Charter Schools that share space with LAUSD schools.
The third day of the strike, Wednesday, we had local actions, and as Topanga is part of the West Area of LAUSD, we headed to Daniel Webster Middle School after our morning picketing. We marched along Sawtelle Boulevard and gathered at the stage set up in front of the school. There was media coverage of the enthusiastic crowd motivated by amplified music, speakers encouraging us to continue our fight for our students and, even in the pouring rain, our spirits were high, lifted by the comradery of so many teachers, parents and students united in our vision for schools: lower class size, health services, librarians, school nurses, and fair pay for teachers.
Thursday, we woke to the sound of torrential rain and it took a lot of determination to get up, put on boots and rain gear and head to the picket line. When we arrived at school, we learned that due to an electricity “brown out,” Topanga Elementary Charter School was relocated to Woodland Hills Elementary Charter for Enriched Studies. We decided to picket down the hill at Dumetz and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which has more visibility.
Thursday was a day for community outreach, so Mr. Harrell, Ms. Santora, Mrs. Welch, Tali Whalley, an occupational therapist, who is a psychiatric social worker and TECS parent, and myself met with parents at the Topanga Library to give an explanation and update of the strike and answer questions. We had a good turnout and those in attendance seemed grateful for the time to discuss the strike and get clarification. We headed down to the Valley to join in picket lines in West Hills at dismissal time.
Friday, the sun came out and we were so happy to have so many Topanga parents and students join us at Dumetz and Topanga Canyon Boulevard with signs and enthusiastic chants. We have had wonderful support and are so grateful for that. We left around 9 a.m. and headed downtown to Grand Park for a huge rally of a crowd estimated at 60,000.
Marisa Ronstadt, accompanied by Ted Hampton of Gage Middle School, Aloe Blacc, Maya Jupiter, and Tom Morello spoke and performed along with our UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who continued to encourage us to stay strong and united. The crowd was bigger and more enthusiastic than ever and we ended the week feeling strong and hopeful.
Negotiations continue through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend and our fight for an equal education for all of our LAUSD students seems particularly aligned with the civil rights and union rights Dr. King was fighting for. We are fighting for our students and the equity in education that they all deserve.
We are fighting for less District-mandated testing and more time for teaching and engaging with our students, smaller class sizes that enable teachers to get to know students and help them succeed, and we are fighting for school nurses in every school, every day, more counselors and psychologists, and fair pay.
As Trevor Noah said this week, “…that’s the most reasonable list of demands I’ve ever heard.”
Teachers do not get paid while on strike and it is an extreme financial hardship for most of us. We are doing this because the unregulated Charter schools and the disparity of materials and services throughout the District magnify the inequity of the education of Los Angeles students.
Schools with active parent groups that raise money, such as TECS, can offset the large class size by hiring a “class size-reduction” teacher to provide enrichment and extra materials; most of the schools in our District cannot do this. Education is the great equalizer and we are fighting to provide an equal education for all students. As the chant goes: “Whose schools? Our schools! Whose students? Our students!”
We teachers at Topanga Elementary Charter School would especially like to thank the O’Shea family, who generously allowed us to use their bathroom and offered warmth, coffee, and muffins during the inclement weather.
We would like to thank the many parents who provided delicious pastries, hot coffee,and loads of support during the cold, rainy mornings. We appreciate the musical encouragement of Peter Alsop and Ellen Geer who led us in Union songs, and the Topanga Community who waved, honked and shouted as they drove by each morning and afternoon.
Amy Weisberg is a Transitional Kindergarten teacher at Topanga Elementary Charter School, which is a LAUSD Charter-affiliate school, as well as a columnist and contributor on education for the Messenger Mountain News.