U.S. News

Los Angeles parents 'choosing to struggle' with striking teachers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Elizabeth Rietz says it has not been easy keeping her daughter busy at home during the first two days of a strike by Los Angeles teachers, while she and her husband try to start their own clothing line. But she believes it’s the right thing to do.

FILE PHOTO: Students attend a march by some of the more than 30,000 teachers in the Los Angeles public school system who held a rally at the City Hall after going on strike in Los Angele, California, U.S., January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Like many parents Rietz, whose daughter is in 4th grade at Ivanhoe Elementary School in the middle-class Silver Lake neighborhood, has taken on the extra burden in solidarity with 30,000 teachers demanding higher pay, smaller class sizes and more staff.

“We’re choosing to struggle because we support the teachers. And we would rather struggle at home and try to entertain our daughter while we work, so that we can send a message to the district that we believe that class sizes should be reduced,” Rietz, 42, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials have kept its 900 schools open during the two-day walkout using administrators and substitute teachers, mindful that working-class parents cannot afford child care.

But only about a third of the district’s 492,000 affected students turned up on the first day of the work stoppage, many parents choosing to keep their children home. The Los Angeles Zoo, La Brea Tar Pits and museums have offered free admission to students during the strike.

Even with attendance down sharply, limited staffing meant students gathered in gymnasiums for “independent study.”

The strike entered its second day on Tuesday, three days after negotiations broke down and with no new talks scheduled between the district and United Teachers Los Angeles.

UTLA negotiators are seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise. Teacher salary currently averages $75,000 in the district, according the California Department of Education. The district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay.

Gloria Martinez, vice president of elementary schools for the UTLA, said she believes Latino parents support the striking teachers. Nearly 75 percent of the school system is Hispanic; 43 percent of teachers are as well.

“I feel like our immigrant communities, not just Latino, understand our struggle because a lot of times they see it in their own home countries. They see the privatization agenda, they understand the cost of good education,” Martinez said.

Rietz is among a group of Ivanhoe parents who decided in discussions on social media to keep their children home.

Michelle Crames, 42, said she kept her 4th grade daughter home from Wonderland Avenue Elementary School while sending her other two children to class at Larchmont Charter School.

The expansion of charter schools has been a sticking point in negotiations. Union leaders say they drain higher performing students and their more engaged parents from traditional campuses.

“I think the charter parents are very informed, a lot of us work very hard for our schools,” Crames said. But Crames agrees with teachers that class sizes should be smaller.

She said keeping her daughter home was a gesture of support for the walkout, which she could offer because of the “privilege” of her economic stability. The 4th grader was spending the week building her own computer.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool