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LA Teachers Demanding Better School Resources Prepare To Strike


This weekend, the Los Angeles Unified School District inches closer and closer to a teachers' strike on Monday morning. Over 30,000 members of United Teachers of Los Angeles have been working without a contract for over a year. On Friday, the school district made a new offer with an increased budget, but the union rejected it as not being enough to address their concerns over class size and funding for school nurses, librarians and counselors. While the two sides could come to an agreement at any time before the start of the next school week, that possibility is looking less and less likely.

We wanted to hear from a teacher about all of this, so we called up Joel Laguna. He's a sixth grade history teacher at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Angeles, and he joins me now.

Hi, Joel.

JOEL LAGUNA: Hi. How are you?

MCCAMMON: Great. Thanks for being with us. LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country with close to half a million culturally and economically diverse students, as you know. Tell us a little bit about the middle school where you teach, Thomas Starr King.

LAGUNA: So Thomas Starr King Middle School is in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. And we are one of the most diverse middle schools in all of LAUSD, ethnically, culturally, geographically as well as financially.

MCCAMMON: And so how does that feel different when there's a teacher strike for different groups of people?

LAGUNA: You know, some - a lot of parents from the richer neighborhoods can keep their kids at home. They can hire babysitters. They've been talking about doing strike camps to - you know, that they can do...

MCCAMMON: Kind of like summer camp only strike camp.

LAGUNA: Exactly. And on the other end, you know, we have parents who work two, three jobs, right? And this is, like, the possibility of, a, not having child care or having your kid in school during this time and then B, food. It's a serious challenge. Right.

MCCAMMON: Right. And, as you allude to, right, so many parents in these neighborhoods rely on the school for child care at least part of the day and for free or reduced meals for students. You've taken it on yourself to provide some backup options for these kids. Can you tell me more about that?

LAGUNA: At our school, about 70 percent of our students are on free and reduced lunch. And, believe it or not, that's actually on the lower end of most LAUSD schools. A lot of LAUSD schools are in the 80s and 90 percent. And so, considering that we're estimating about half of the students are not going to be showing up to school, that's going to cause some serious issues in terms of food security.

So in our school, we're going to be providing meals to students who are not going to be going to school during this time to make sure that they do not have to worry about proper health and nutrition. And they can come and pick it up - we'll be striking on the line 7:00 a.m. beginning Monday morning if there's no agreement. I'll be out there from 7:00 a.m. all the way to 1:00 if anybody, parents or students, want to come by and pick it up. And then, when we are not striking, we're going to just be making bag lunches. So it's going to be a full-scale process but I - this is definitely worth it.

MCCAMMON: And I've heard that there's some concern about students - because these schools will stay open, right, during a strike, so there's concern about students having to cross picket lines of their own teachers.

LAGUNA: Not at all. In fact, the students have asked me last week about it, and all of our teachers are not going to put anything negative or shame any students for crossing the picket line. If you need to be at school, or your parents have to send you to school, like, that is totally understandable.

MCCAMMON: What do you say to those who say, look - there just isn't enough money for what you're asking for?

LAGUNA: The biggest thing that I want to say that every single teacher in Los Angeles will say is this entire strike that's happening on Monday is not about pay. The strike that's happening on Monday is completely about the classroom sizes, the learning conditions in our classroom. Right now, LAUSD, the district, has almost a $1.9 billion reserve. So we're saying, you have the money, and let's invest it in our schools when we have students in our classroom right now who need those resources.

MCCAMMON: Joe Laguna, sixth grade history teacher at Thomas Starr King Middle School, part of the LA Unified School District, which is facing a possible teacher strike on Monday morning.

Joel, thanks for speaking with us.

LAGUNA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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