School & District Management

Fed Up, L.A. Principals Ask District to Close Schools During Teacher Strike

By Madeline Will — January 18, 2019 2 min read
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While Los Angeles teachers have been on strike, principals and other administrators have been handling instruction. And the situation, some say, is untenable.

On Thursday, Juan Flecha, the president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents the district’s principals, assistant principals, and some central office administrators, asked Superintendent Austin Beutner to consider closing schools until the strike is over.

Administrators, he said, are experiencing “distress and outright anxiety” and “dire and unsafe working conditions.”

See also: Principals Are Taking Over Teaching in L.A. While Staff Is on Strike

But Beutner refused, saying that students and families are counting on schools to stay open. More than 80 percent of students in the nation’s second-largest district live in poverty, and Beutner said the district has a responsibility to provide meals and a safe space for all kids.

Districtwide, attendance has lagged, with just about 84,000 of the half-million students coming to school on Thursday—the smallest number all week. District officials have said that schools with high numbers of low-income students have higher attendance rates, according to the New York Times. (The district also loses state money every day that students stay home—so far, the school system has lost about $97 million.)

According to the letter obtained by the news outlet LAist, Flecha shared a handful of messages he has received from his members that cited concerns about an overwhelming workload and a lack of clear communication from the district. Some include:

  • “The expectation that principals are both filling the operational role and at the same time teaching students is unrealistic. This is not OK.”
  • “Working conditions were untenable before the strike. The situation is now impossible. Learning is not happening. Schools should have been closed.”
  • “The lack of communication with school site principals is difficult as I do not know whether to strategize for the long term.”

Flecha also demanded that his members receive extra-duty pay for every additional hour beyond the workday, saying that administrators have had to put in long hours to keep schools open. (One princiapl told Education Week that he left his school around 9:45 p.m. on the strike’s first day.)

In his response, Beutner said that although he couldn’t close schools, extra-duty pay will be provided for administrators. “We know we are asking a lot from our principals and staff during this challenging time,” he wrote.

The district and the United Teachers Los Angeles resumed bargaining on Thursday, with negotiations continuing today. Teachers are striking for a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more support staff in schools. The district has said it can’t afford all those demands.

For more on how principals are handling both instruction and school operations during the strike, see Denisa Superville’s story.

Image: Students Ayden Hernandez, Joshua Castro, Max Lopez, and Adonay Miranda, from left, participate in a classroom exercise at Vine Street Elementary during the Los Angeles teacher strike on Jan. 14. —Morgan Lieberman for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.