LAUSD Principals Ask District To Close Schools During Strike. District Says 'No'

El Sereno Middle School Principal Joyce Dara helps with teaching duties as Schools teachers go on strike (Chava Sanchez For Laist/Chava Sanchez for LAist)

The head of the union representing L.A. Unified School District principals has urged the district's leadership to close schools for the duration of the ongoing teachers strike.

If LAUSD leadership cannot close schools, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles union president Juan Flecha is calling for more resources and assurances for the principals who've shouldered much of the burden of keeping schools running for thousands of students during the teachers strike.

Flecha sent these demands in an email to district officials on Wednesday afternoon. He said he's received hundreds of emails and calls from his members — the principals — who are concerned about campus conditions and personal safety.

"It is the members, who have more than once repeatedly said, 'This is untenable, this is dire, I'm afraid for my health and safety, I'm afraid I'm not going to go home to my family, and the schools need to shut down,'" Flecha said in an interview.

LAUSD officials answered Flecha late Thursday, saying shuttering the schools was not an option.

"Students and families are counting on our schools to stay open," wrote Superintendent Austin Beutner. "Our schools and employees provide students with a shelter from the rain, a safe space and a warm meal. For many of our foster and homeless students, our schools provide students with the only constant in their lives."

Of the more-than 484,000 kids in LAUSD, four out of five rely on free and reduced price meals the district serves. At least 16,200 district students are homeless.


MORE STRIKE COVERAGE


Flecha acknowledged the closure of schools would add to the district-wide child care conundrum and create new hardships for some students and families.

"Under normal circumstances, the safest place for a student is in their school," Flecha said. But, he added, "this is an exigent circumstance, an extraordinary circumstance."

Flecha said his members' most frequently voiced concern is their safety while entering and leaving campuses. His letter mentions one instance in which an administrator's car was "swarmed with picketers yelling obscenities and blocking the entrance to the parking lot."

It's the only such interaction mentioned in the letter and Flecha said he's unaware of principals receiving more direct threats. Still, "a significant number" of the communications he's received mention "the issue of entry and egress and what picketers are doing and not doing."

In his email, Flecha demanded district leadership take steps to "ensure the safe entry and egress of every one of our members. Perhaps schools need to be closed if the district cannot guarantee the health and safety of every ... front-line manager."

Beutner responded that school police are working alongside the Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff's Department to keep campuses safe.

"While there are significant challenges, there has not been an incident that would require us to close all schools," he wrote.

Flecha has urged district leadership to reassess how they've distributed administrators who've been told to leave their central office positions to help staff campuses. Flecha has heard some schools with low attendance have received more extra staff than other schools where attendance has remained relatively high during the strike.

His email also demands that administrators be guaranteed "extra duty pay" — supplemental wages for work during extraordinary circumstances — for their work leading up to the strike. Flecha says the district is normally "conservative" about handing out this money.

UPDATES:

7:22 p.m. This article was updated with LAUSD's response to Flecha's demands.

This article was originally published at 4:10 p.m.


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