April 19, 2019

Jewish Parents, Teachers Voice Support for Teachers Strike

Supporters of the LAUSD strike march in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Mehgan Manes.

As tens of thousands of educators, parents and students marched, picketed and voiced their solidarity with the teachers strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Jewish parents and employees of the district contacted by the Journal said they stood in strong support of the teachers’ cause.

“I am tremendously grateful to our teachers for being willing to put their own pay at risk to stand up to say to the school board and to the state and the county that we have been desperately underfunding our schools for years and years and years, and that we cannot allow this to happen any longer,” said parent Brooke Wirtschafter of Tarzana.

Wirtschafter, who spoke with the Journal by phone, said she proudly sends her children to Gaspar De Portola Middle School and North Hollywood High School and kept them home while teachers were out marching and walking picket lines.  

Officials with the teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, estimated 50,000 people participated in a march through downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 14, with thousands more participating in other protests and picketing on following days. 

The union is negotiating for better wages, health benefits, smaller class sizes, better resources, full-time nurses, librarians and counselors. 

“I think it’s important for Jewish kids to be in public school both because they need to understand what it’s like for us to be a minority in this country [and] for other kids to see Jewish kids in school.” — Brooke Wirtschafter

LAUSD, the second largest school district in the nation, employs more than 34,000 teachers and educates 600,000 students at more than 1,300 schools and educational centers. On the first days of the strike, about one-third of the district’s students went to their respective schools, where substitutes and other staff kept them occupied with activities.

Mehgan Manes, who has been teaching for more than 15 years and is currently a math teacher at Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Pacific Palisades, said she participated in the Jan. 14 downtown march.

“It was so crowded. It was like the 10 Freeway,” she said. “Despite the rain, it didn’t deter anyone. People really showed their strength in numbers. That made it all the more exciting.” 

Paul Revere Charter Middle School substitute teacher Diana Kramer took part in the same march. “Many subs are not crossing the picket line but were told they’d be paid more if they worked [Jan. 14],” Kramer said. “I got [to Paul Revere] at 7 in the morning, and most of the teachers were [on the picket line] in the pouring rain.” 

Another parent, Jessica Emerson McCormick, told the Journal she kept her daughter home from the Girls Academic Leadership Academy in the Mid-Wilshire District.

“I’m very proud of the teachers and very supportive of the strike,” Emerson McCormick said in a phone interview. “I think it’s obviously part of a greater national movement. A lot of states led the way before L.A. went on strike. I am, at the same time, hoping that it is as short as possible.” 

She also acknowledged that she has “immense privilege” to keep her kids home from school, saying there are “many, many families where it’s not realistic or possible to keep their kids home — whether their kids get meals at school or whether they have no alternative childcare.”

LAUSD provides 870,000 meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for its students daily, according to its website. 

 

VIDEO: Teachers march downtown Jan. 14

 

Ethan Isenberg said his 6-year-old son, Eli, has Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leaves him with many physical disabilities. He attends Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Mar Vista, and the aide that usually assists him is on strike.

“She knows him well enough to aid him with medication when necessary,” Isenberg said, “and since she’s not here and the school doesn’t have a full-time nurse, my son has to stay home from school.”

“I’m hoping that nursing resources are there for the kids like my son,” he added. “They need someone who knows the kids. Too much is being asked of them [nurses] and it’s putting the kids in danger.”

For parents in a bind, Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) and the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center have set up day centers for students of all ages.

VBS’ Strike Camp is hosting various activities from 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and will close at 3:30 p.m. on Fridays for a Kabbalat Shabbat service open to the community. On the first day of the strike, 25 students attended, and VBS expected that number to grow as the strike continued.

“We will offer this camp as long as it’s necessary,” said VBS Executive Director Matthew Weintraub. 

Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, in association with Camp Gilboa, is also hosting an extended winter-break camp for students who need a place to go.

“It affects so many people from so many socio-economic backgrounds, said the center’s Executive Director Neil Spears. “We decided we would have an 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. day camp to give kids an enriching and safe place to be during the strike so parents could have more options. About 60 kids [have] signed up.”  

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) told the Journal Jan. 16 they set up special funds to help teachers and government workers cover their expenses while they are striking and missing paychecks.

“We are also providing interest-free loans to families that are choosing not to send their kids to school during this time and need money for daycare,” said JFLA Director of Marketing Daphna Nissanoff-Gerendash.

Paul Revere’s Kramer said that over the years she has had to take on various side jobs, including being a Lyft driver, because her wages are so low. “Class sizes have gotten bigger and bigger, even though it seems like the money is there,” she said. “I’ve seen really great teachers leaving because they can’t afford to live where they teach. Everyone I have seen today is totally committed to seeing this through.”

LAUSD teacher Mona Cohen has taught for more than 40 years and marched alongside her community most of the day Tuesday. Cohen said she not only believes in public education but the students who will become the next generation of leaders.

“Education is the future, these kids are the future and that’s where the money needs to be invested,” she said adding, “they [students] need to be exposed to new things to broaden their knowledge. They need adequate funding to do that.”

Wirtschafter, who grew up attending public schools and believes in the value of public school education, said Jews in Los Angeles should be standing behind the teachers’ efforts.

“I think it’s important for our kids to grow up [with] a mix of people that is like a mix of the real world and the real cities that they live in,” she said. “I think it’s important for Jewish kids to be in public school both because they need to understand what it’s like for us to be a minority in this country, but I think it’s important for other kids to see Jewish kids and know Jewish kids in school.”