Walking around Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles (LAUSD) on January 15th felt like a ghost town. There was no familiar buzz of classes or chattering students. For the students of Van Nuys High, there was no next class. Only 23% of the student body was on campus.
In LAUSD, members of the United Teachers of LA are currently participating in a strike to urge their district to improve the quality of education in their schools. This includes raising teacher wages, lowering classroom sizes, and increasing staff members in order to have more counselors, nurses, and librarians. Van Nuys High School is part of LAUSD, and today, every single one of their teachers is participating in this strike.
As part of our visit to Los Angeles, Student Voice decided to drop by the school and talk to students affected by the strikes. The first student we ran into, Anthony Chang, describes what happens on campus with no teachers there to give instruction.
“We’re all sent into the gym or the auditorium,” he said, “they provide activities with no educational value.”
Chang expresses his discontent with the district, “It’s very sad and unfortunate that LAUSD doesn’t seem to know the importance of funding schools, especially public schools,” he said.
We continued our search for students and soon made our way into the main office. There we spoke with Yolanda Gardea, the principal of Van Nuys High School. Gardea expressed her support of the concerns being brought up by her staff in downtown Los Angeles—almost resentfully. Although she remained separated from the politics of the situation, she agreed with the many of the demands made by the union.
“Every school deserves to have small class sizes, to have a nurse and to have a staffed library. However it needs to be done, it should be happening,” she said.
During our interview, Gardea’s walkie talkie suddenly rang with an alarming sound. A staff member reported that a student was found unresponsive after suffering from a seizure. She, along with the entirety of the administrative team, rushed off with no choice but to leave the rest of the students unattended. After asking an office employee, we learned that the school nurse was absent.
Walking out of the school we ran into Oshree Barak, who decided not to attend today but needed to pick up some books. Barak told us she was hopeful that teachers will able to receive higher wages and smaller classroom sizes.
“I was looking at teaching salaries, and $80,000 is not enough to live in Los Angeles. Some of these teachers are getting paid $20,000, so I ask ‘how are they even living here?’”
Barak told us that one of her classes had 41 students in it. She said that she will remain in support of teachers and not attend school until they are back. Additionally she emphasized that as an aspiring teacher, she strongly urges for these strikes to be acknowledged and properly addressed.
“I want teachers to be taken seriously. The deals being discussed are not good for the teachers so it’s time the district take them seriously.” she said.
It was at this moment, almost 15 minutes after the unresponsive student was found, that an ambulance rushed past us. This was a startling reminder of the dire need for properly staffed schools. It’s easy to take librarians and counselors for granted, but many schools in LA are without them.
The 31,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, and other school staff who are striking are not striking only for themselves or their district. They are protesting on behalf of students and school staff across the country. Teachers everywhere are not paid enough. Students everywhere suffer from overflowing classes. This strike reaches far past Los Angeles Unified Schools—it is a momentum that is shared by students and teachers from coast to coast.