Los Angeles teachers fight ‘for the very soul of our profession’

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Chanting “Whose schools? Our schools!” and “U-T-L-A,” 50,000 educators, students and allies marched through the streets of Los Angeles on Dec. 15 in support of United Teachers Los Angeles and the union’s struggle to make L.A. schools better places in which to educate, work and learn.

The march and rally that took over downtown L.A. came on the heels of 18 months of contract negotiations, which, so far, have not yielded a new contract for the more than 33,000 educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District. UTLA’s members are fighting for an agreement that supports students, empowers communities, funds the future, and defends the teaching profession. To that end, UTLA is calling for smaller class sizes; more nurses, librarians and counselors; ending the random searches of students that disproportionately profiles black and brown students; an end to unnecessary standardized testing; fair pay; and more charter school accountability, including an end to the unchecked expansion of charter schools at the expense of other public schools. Meanwhile, LAUSD is sitting on a reserve of nearly $2 billion that UTLA believes should go toward improving conditions for students and pay for teachers.

Marchers for UTLA

“If and when we walk the line, it will not be for a mere salary increase (although that is well-deserved). We will walk the line for the very soul of our profession,” instructional coach and intervention teacher Lisa Falco wrote in November. “We will demand the respect that is our due, and we will call on the conscience of our wealthy state to fully fund our public schools. It will be a passionate and determined cry for help from those of us who are on the frontlines, battling to educate the future of our country. And we can no longer do it alone.”

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the crowd: “If we are forced to strike, it will be to defend our schools; but it will also be because we think our kids deserve more, we deserve more, and because we dare to have high expectations.”

As UTLA members took to the streets the day before the rally, AFT members and leaders from around the country sent solidarity messages online, and signed onto a joint letter of support from the AFT, the National Education Association and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.

AFT President Randi Weingarten joined the Saturday rally and march, where she told UTLA members and supporters: “What you are facing here in Los Angeles is part of the same playbook we’ve seen in place after place, year after year—starve the schools to create a crisis, go after teachers, and hand over control to those who want to run schools like a business rather than invest in what our kids need. And of course, it’s brought to you by people who are far away from classrooms and who spend too much time in boardrooms. They probably couldn’t survive 10 minutes in a classroom, yet they want to dictate the teaching and learning conditions in our classrooms.”

Weingarten connected this fight to defend and improve Los Angeles public schools to the wave of education uprisings that has spread across the country this year: “Just like educators, parents and communities said in West Virginia, in Oklahoma, in Arizona, in Chicago, and now in Los Angeles—Enough is enough! It’s time for a new paradigm ... one where all kids matter ... one that is based on what students, parents and teachers want for our schools—and that’s what the demands from UTLA are rooted in.”

As L.A.’s public school students, parents and educators await a forthcoming fact-finder’s report on 18 months of contract negotiations, support for UTLA’s vision for public education continues to build. Parents, fellow labor unions, and national education leaders like Diane Ravitch are speaking out to support UTLA members and their fight to improve L.A. schools. You can learn more about the campaign and share you support on Twitter using the hashtag #UTLAstrong.

[Leilah Mooney Joseph, AFT Communications]