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LA Teachers Strike: Spanish-Speaking Parents May Be At A Disadvantage


Thousands of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are on strike. This is the nation's second-biggest school district. It's a huge story here, and parents have a lot of questions. But we should note the district is over 70 percent Latino or Hispanic, serving many non-English-speaking families. KPCC's Emily Elena Dugdale looks at the difficulty of reaching these families.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Education is a right.

EMILY ELENA DUGDALE, BYLINE: It's 7:30 a.m. and raining at Hollenbeck Middle School in Boyle Heights, a largely Latino neighborhood on LA's East Side. Teachers wearing bright-red union shirts clasp picket signs and chant outside the school entrance. But school is still in session. And Antonio Francisco pulls up to the curb to drop off his daughter just as he always does. But today he's shocked by what he sees.

ANTONIO FRANCISCO: (Speaking Spanish).

DUGDALE: Francisco says, "I don't have words for this." He had no idea his daughter's teachers would be in the streets, but he doesn't have time to deal with it. He's got to get to work.

FRANCISCO: (Speaking Spanish).

DUGDALE: He says he thinks if teachers want to protest, they also need to let people know. But what Francisco doesn't know is that other parents have known about the strike for weeks. Francisco's reaction isn't hard for community leader Henry Perez to imagine.

HENRY PEREZ: The vast majority of non-English-speaking parents in our community - they definitely have a disconnection with what is happening.

DUGDALE: Perez is the director of InnerCity Struggle, an organization in Boyle Heights that supports local families. He says these parents often work long hours and can't spend time at their children's school. Or there's limited access to Internet, so they don't always get new information. But families who don't speak English have the most to lose from a strike.

PEREZ: They feel the impact of this challenging situation much greater than other communities.

DUGDALE: To help close this gap, Perez held meetings with parents and put together a strike guide in Spanish. But the small organization can't reach everyone. Joseph Nacorda with the school district thought his team would come pretty close. LA Unified is so big that the district is divided into several local districts. Nacorda is superintendent of one of them. Last week, the district set up a bilingual English and Spanish hotline to spread information about the strike. They've also sent automated calls in English and Spanish to homes, and some schools also sent letters. Nacorda says they're tracking how schools are engaging with non-English-speaking families.

JOSEPH NACORDA: I was able to get a good pulse from my parents, coaches, as well as my directors, with regards to any translation issues.

DUGDALE: The district also puts out notices in Spanish on a Twitter handle called SomosLAUSD. That's we are LAUSD. But the page only has about 200 followers in a district of thousands of Spanish-speaking households. Spokesperson Gloria Martinez with the teachers union said they've had success going door to door with strike flyers in some neighborhoods and rely on small networks of bilingual parent volunteers to pass the message of the strike along to non-English speakers.

GLORIA MARTINEZ: They themselves are saying, you know, we need to put our communities of color up front; we need to make sure that monolingual-speaking parents are also using their native language to communicate.

DUGDALE: She says non-English-speaking families want to be involved. It's just a matter of better meeting them where they are. For NPR News, I'm Emily Elena Dugdale in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "MELODY OF THE SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Elena Dugdale