LA Students Prep For A Teacher Strike Monday: 'It's So Much Bigger Than A Pay Raise'

Jan 13, 2019
Originally published on January 13, 2019 7:26 pm

Teachers in Los Angeles are set to strike tomorrow after the teachers' union and the district failed to negotiate a new contract. The strike would impact about half a million students in the nation's second-largest school district. It would be the city's first teachers' strike in nearly 30 years.

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Teachers in Los Angeles are set to strike tomorrow after the teachers' union and the district failed to negotiate a new contract. The strike would impact about half a million students in the nation's second-largest school district. It would be the city's first teachers' strike in nearly 30 years. NPR's Elissa Nadworny has been in LA talking with students.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: One of the main points of contention in LA's contract negotiations is class size. This issue - it's one that's very familiar to high school senior Marshe Doss (ph). She's lived it.

MARSHE DOSS: My math class was, like, way too packed.

NADWORNY: For that class at Dorsey Senior High School, the staff added extra chairs to the rows of desks so students could share.

MARSHE: Even if - like, if your friend or something, it's just not enough room. And it just makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel like I don't need to do anything because I don't have a desk.

NADWORNY: Marshe is part of Students Deserve, a group that advocates for social justice and better schools. When she's been talking to her classmates about the strike, she's heard a lot of this.

MARSHE: I want to the strike to happen so I don't got to go to school. That's what a lot of people are, like, thinking and where their mindset is.

NADWORNY: So she and some other Student Deserve members have made it their mission to educate their peers about why their teachers are striking.

AMY MON-ROY: And it's, like, so much bigger than a pay raise. And, like, I feel like a lot of students don't understand that.

NADWORNY: That's Marshe's classmate, junior Amy Mon-Roy (ph). Amy says she has friends in other districts, and they have a lot more resources.

AMY: Why do we have to fight for the things that other students get in other districts?

NADWORNY: The reason from the LA Unified School District - they just don't have the money. The last offer from the district, which upped its spending by about 25 million, didn't satisfy the union. In addition to smaller class sizes, the union is asking for full-time nurses and librarians, among other things. Dorsey senior Saisha Smith (ph) wants people to know she's paying attention.

SAISHA SMITH: We are black and brown children who care about the conditions we're in and how we're being treated. And we know the reasons why, and we're not naive.

NADWORNY: During the strike, the district is keeping schools open, staffed by administrators, volunteers and newly hired substitutes. Despite Saisha, Amy and Marshe's excitement to be part of a movement for change, they're bummed to be missing their regular Monday classes. For Saisha, the class she'll miss the most is AP English.

SMITH: The book we're reading right now is "Native Son" by Richard Wright. And that book is - have you read it? Oh, my gosh. That book is crazy (laughter). Like, it's reigniting my love for reading because I'm like, oh, this is so good.

KIMBERLY ESCOBAR: Usually, on Monday, we would have orchestra.

NADWORNY: For Kimberly Escobar, a fifth-grader at Alta Loma Elementary, Monday is the one day she has music class.

KIMBERLY: That's something I was kind of looking forward because we were going to learn a new song.

NADWORNY: But now, with the strike...

KIMBERLY: We would be staying in the auditorium, and they'll try to entertain us.

NADWORNY: The district says learning will still take place, but some parents are opting to keep their kids home. For other parents, bringing their kids to school is the better option. And, for working families, it may be the only option. Kimberly's mom, Rosa, who's sitting next to her - she's still figuring out what she'll do.

ROSA ESCOBAR: I'm not really sure yet if I'ma (ph) send her to school or not, yes.

KIMBERLY: But I have one thing to say. I'm the vice president, and I need to support the school and the student council.

NADWORNY: Kimberly wants to support her teachers, too. But school is her main priority.

KIMBERLY: So I need to be here that day.

ESCOBAR: She's really responsible.

KIMBERLY: I want to be included in all, like, the school decisions, and I need to make sure the school is fine.

NADWORNY: Whatever they decide tomorrow morning, they've offered up their home just around the corner from school for picketing teachers to use the bathroom. Rosa Escobar says she's stocked up on toilet paper, ready for Monday's strike.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.