A Hot Take on the Strike, by an LAUSD Student

3:14 PM

By editor-in-chief, Stephanie CP

When we begin painting issues as black and white, all intersectionality is lost.


Most facets of my identity align with those of LAUSD: I am a Chicana, of Mexican descent. My family comprises mostly of immigrants. I am low-income. But, I also attend a well-performing, college preparatory school. However, this has not discounted me from feeling the effects of overcrowded classrooms, racial microaggressions, and more. (Up until last year, our school was so underserved that our campus comprised of bungalows on a tennis court, teeming with raccoons, rats, and termites-- and next to a refinery. Additionally, I have attended highly underserved schools before.) Being and having experienced all these things, I have a pretty solid idea of the way district-wide happenings affect LAUSD students. 

Then the strike happened. Initially, I was in full support of it. I picketed alongside my teachers this past Wednesday, helped my mother with food supplies on Thursday, and even went downtown to rally on Friday. However, many incidents on Friday began to pile on each other in a way that made compromise seem more pressing than ever. 

Early in the morning on Friday, I was among the many South Bay picketers making their way downtown on the Metro Silver Line. Emphasis on many. Within a couple stops, the bus crowded so much that it was all but impossible to stand. And by the time we got to the outskirts of the city, the bus broke down; everyone was forced to board off. Seeing the understandable frustration of everyday people (most of which were Spanish-speaking and older) upon being unable to go to work, doctor's appointments, etc., I was guilt-ridden. These folks' weeks were being disrupted by the chaos of the strike. My guilt turned quickly into irritation on the bus ride home, when realizing the discrepancies between protestors and regular bus-goers. Our bus was swarmed with teachers, going between bouts of drunkenness and privilege. Yes, drunkenness. In a bus full of student picketers, teachers were loudly bragging about the number of tequila shots and beers they consumed, much to my horror. While this can be seen as purely circumstantial (I am glad to say I personally do not know of any teachers who would do this), it was the privilege they displayed that garnered my irritation. They treated the bus ride like a spectacle, saying they'd never used handrails before and badgering the bus driver for charging them (free fares are for students only, last time I checked). It was clear that public transport was not the norm for them-- or most teachers. But, for me, the final straw was in the way this posse treated passengers. Since the bus was so crowded, the bus driver had to skip a few stops-- much to the dismay of a laborer who needed to go to work. He began to pester the bus driver in Spanish, and at one point one of the teachers told the man to "Shut up and speak English." This blatant act of racism was audacious to me: not only did this teacher already tread on the livelihood of this man and people like him, he dared reprimand him for speaking Spanish while teaching in a district of majority Latinos. And this behavior extended beyond public transit. 

Earlier that morning, Student Member of the Board Tyler Okeke, a close friend of mine, released a statement addressing the strike. Along with another friend, we scoured social media sites for responses, and the reception was not very good. On Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, hundreds of teachers and other adults attacked the statement, saying that the teacher's union (UTLA) needed to not make any concessions. They also attacked Okeke's character, calling him Beutner and Garcia's lovechild, a private school boy, a sellout, "full of sh*t." On the way back to school after the bus ride, a couple of friends and I were cornered by two teachers in their cars. They reprimanded Okeke's statement, saying that he should take a side or be quiet. All this was nothing short of bullying and intimidation. While teachers deserve to be angry at the state of the district, there is no justification for berating a minor on the internet or intimidating his friends. The sheer irony this holds, saying they fight for students while dragging one, would be comical if it wasn't so malicious. To elaborate on the nature of Okeke's statement, it is receptive to both sides, but clearly emphasizes the district's duty to step up. It presses compromise because of the strike's effects on regular folk city-wide, and LAUSD families. It addresses the intersectionality of the issue. 

As his friend, I can testify for his concern on how the city's most vulnerable populations are being affected by the strike. Throughout this past week (and as per usual in history), the narratives of poor black and brown populations have been ignored. Teachers' heroism has been (rightfully so) applauded nationwide, while the turmoil of parents has been ignored. The LA School Report has been one of the few outlets to highlight these stories. Parents are afraid to betray teachers (people with a certain degree of power) by sending their students to school, a feeling further aroused by protesters screaming at parents to take their children home. These parents often work long hours and rely on the safety of schools to care for their children, to feed and shelter them, while they make ends meet. I know of a couple kids at my own school who chose to attend because they lack access to WiFi elsewhere, which they needed to complete assignments. And, for parents left with no choice but to take children to school, conditions are currently terrible. My mother, who volunteered most of the week for the strike, told me about the state of special education classes: students were crowded into a classroom and left to do as they please, with a substitute offering minimal supervision. Schools are often a place where poor parents of color leave their disabled children to be cared for, and the way the strike has affected this is not okay. 

As a near-joke with a friend, I decided to look up UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. What I found was surprising. He makes well over six figures-- possibly in the same income bracket as board members themselves. Go figure. He was also fired from teaching jobs for his subversive arrogance, and for missing over 100 hours of teaching in his campaign for UTLA president. Personally, these tidbits of information were enough to arouse my suspicion-- but, being the Gen Z-er I am, I dove into the remote corners of the internet to find more. What I found was a harrowing comparison between the strike and Trump's government shutdown. It theorized that Caputo-Pearl was creating political pressure at the end of his term to launch himself onto the national stage-- exploiting strikers and hurting LAUSD parents in the process. Of course, articles of this nature should be taken with a grain of salt, but in conjunction with everything else, it does not seem so far-fetched. Furthermore, I was shocked to find out that it was UTLA who defended a teacher's racial microaggressions against students last year. Maybe it's my dramatic nature, but I felt used: how can the union rack public support for the strike by saying it's "for the students," when they do not protect these students from the emotional violence of racism? 

Bottom line: I agree wholeheartedly with teachers, and I will not hesitate to point fingers at the district for failing them-- you will never find me being a big money crony. The district and all the institutions so involved in it need to do better to assure teachers get the money, classrooms, and resources they deserve. But when black and brown students and families, way poorer and more vulnerable than the people protesting, are being literally affected, I have to step my foot down. When children are being dragged into the shortcomings of adults, I have to step my foot down. When this is starting to seem like a dead-end ideological fight, and not an incremental, pragmatic one, I have to step my foot down. (Hell, it took black folk in this nation centuries to secure their rights. And the fight is still not done. I'm being cynical here, but, as said in a text to a friend: "white teachers are oppressed for 1 week and think they're done. we fight everyday bye") Because, to me, this movement should always be student-centered. And student-centered in LAUSD means low-income, black-and-brown-centered. When these populations are being failed, so is the movement. 

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