"In addition to threatening the health and safety of students, a strike would also..."
- Exhibit A in LAUSD Court Filing
For over 25 years the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been unable to satisfy the terms of a Consent Decree meant to ensure that students with special education needs receive the education that they are entitled to by law. Yet when faced with a strike by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the District has suddenly shown a concern "that students with disabilities not be deprived of legally-mandated services." Therefore, lawyers for the District asked the court to enjoin "UTLA, its officers, and representatives from causing, encouraging, condoning, or participating in any strike, slowdown, or other work stoppage by any UTLA bargaining unit member who provides educational services to LAUSD special education students."
Included in the motion filed by the LAUSD is a statement that "students with serious disabilities will be placed in extreme danger of injury due to lack of trained personnel or supervision." According to the District, these students "could get hurt, hurt themselves, or hurt others" if teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and therapists are allowed to participate in the strike. In summary, a strike would threaten "the health and safety of students" and "affected special education students will be irreparably harmed".
Without commenting on LAUSD's claims about the danger faced by students with special education needs, the court has ruled against the District and refused to prevent any teachers from participating in the strike. This will create a situation that the LAUSD says will be dangerous for children. While the District is publicly stating "that a strike is not considered a valid excuse to miss school", how can parents be expected to send their children to school when the LAUSD has admitted in a court document that their children will not be safe? How can the District even open schools if students "will be placed in extreme danger"?
"I also don't want to talk about what our plan is for the strike."
- LAUSD Board Vice-President Nick Melvoin
While the LAUSD only covered children with special education needs in their court filing, the well-being of all of the District's students should be called into question. There are approximately 30,000 members of UTLA who are set to go on strike. There are only "about 400 substitutes and 2,000 credentialed district staff" available to cover their positions. How can it be possible for this small number of replacements to guarantee a safe environment for children?
While "L.A. Unified has said that all schools will be open during the strike", LAUSD Board Vice-President Melvoin, has told parents that "if we get to a point where we think it is not going to be safe, we will close schools." Unfortunately, he was unable or unwilling to state how that decision will be made. He said that it was "all about ratios", but could not state what those ratios are. While the Board Member stated that the ultimate decision is up to the principal, an off-camera voice says that it is the bureaucrats at Beaudry who make the final decision.
Whether a student has typical or special needs, the LAUSD is not going to be able to provide the normal education experience without teachers in the classroom. Yet the District seems determined to keep the schools open. This may keep the funds flowing in from the state, but at what cost? As one parent reminded Melvoin: "If my kid gets injured, you have much bigger issues."
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.