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Teachers Will Boycott First ‘Optional’ Day Of LAUSD’s Extended School Year, Union Says

A long hallway with bright windows at the end and lockers.
A hallway at George Washington Preparatory High School in the neighborhood of Westmont.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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Teachers union members will not show up for an optional day of extra classes the Los Angeles Unified School District scheduled later this fall, union leadership announced in a statement Friday.

The call by United Teachers Los Angeles for a boycott of the October 19 “acceleration day” threatens to undercut an effort championed by LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to provide extra on-campus time for students who have struggled to keep up academically since the pandemic’s onset.

LAUSD 2022-23 Calendar At A Glance
    • First day of class: Monday, Aug. 15, 2022
    • Extra days of class (optional): Oct. 19, Dec. 7, Mar. 15, Apr. 19
    • Last day of class: Thursday, Jun. 15, 2023
    • Click here to see the full calendar

The Union Vote

About half of UTLA members — 18,257 out of a reported 34,000 — participated in union-wide voting over the last three days. More than 93% of those who voted endorsed the boycott. UTLA leaders say members’ opposition to Carvalho’s plan has been fueled by concerns that LAUSD hasn’t come up with a plan to use these days effectively.

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“Any time we ask for information [from LAUSD officials], it has been woefully lacking,” said union officer Arlene Inouye. “The feeling is it’s a P.R. stunt to say they’re doing something” about students who are struggling academically, socially or emotionally.

How 'Optional Days' Work

News of the boycott comes amid increasing tensions with Carvalho over unfinished talks on a new teachers union contract. UTLA leaders have also accused LAUSD leaders of using these “acceleration days” as an end-run around the union, allowing Carvalho to lengthen the current school year without securing the union’s formal approval first.

Last spring, Carvalho convinced LAUSD board members to insert four additional, but optional days of classes into the 2022-23 school year. District officials said each of these days — all Wednesdays — were strategically placed on the calendar: near deadlines when teachers must report grades or when students are ramping up for Advanced Placement tests.

He’s learning, I think, that we don’t just fall down and obey
— Arlene Inouye, United Teachers Los Angeles officer

Teachers and students aren’t required to show up to campus on these four days; they could choose to stay home.

But LAUSD board members also voted to set aside $122 million to compensate teachers who did come to school. They hoped these educators would provide additional help to students in need of “intensive intervention,” according to a statement from LAUSD spokesperson Shannon Haber.

“This is to accelerate students’ progress toward grade-level proficiency, social emotional learning and high school graduation,” the statement added, “while providing teachers and other employees an opportunity to earn extra pay.”

The Risks Of Falling Behind

LAUSD students were at particularly high risk of falling behind during the pandemic. Researchers have warned that students struggled most in districts that kept campuses shuttered longest — and LAUSD remained in distance learning mode longer than more than 80% of the nation’s districts.

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Carvalho has also warned to expect drops in LAUSD’s performance on California’s statewide standardized tests when results come out later this year. He said the data is likely to show that the “most politically fragile populations of students lost the most ground.”

One analysis in the American Educational Research Journal distilled the findings of 67 studies of efforts to improve struggling schools and concluded that “extended learning time” — that is, longer school days or a longer school year — was a “particularly promising” reform strategy. (It’s not clear from the study how much extra time was necessary to achieve real benefits.)

Will The Extra Time Be Meaningful?

However, UTLA officials argue that setting aside four seemingly random Wednesdays will simply wind up disrupting “real teaching and learning.”

Inouye said it’s not clear that schools know how to use the extra time effectively. She said UTLA negotiators asked twice during contract talks in May and June about how LAUSD expected schools to use these days. Central office administrators replied that schools must come up with their own plans, Inouye said.

If not now, then when? If not this, then what?
— Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, on April 26, 2022

In a recent bargaining session, one teacher shared that at her school, “the principal was talking about showing movies because they don’t know what’s happening,” Inouye said.

But if teachers are concerned these days will be meaningless, aren’t teachers ethically obligated to show up and help make these days meaningful?

“Our ethical obligation,” Inouye replied, “is to show we have a plan that really addresses the needs of our students — and that is long-term, not a one-day thing. Even if it’s a good day, it’s not going to have a lasting impact on the lives of our students in the way our bargaining proposal will.”

What It's All Costing

Of the $122 million the board approved in its spring calendar vote, Haber noted that roughly $52 million was set aside to pay teachers for three days of optional training on Aug. 9-11, during the week before classes began. “The majority of educators participated,” she said.

Inouye called for LAUSD to divert the remaining funds into its ongoing contract talks. The union has called for “smaller class sizes and increased salaries for teachers to ensure long term retention of quality educators,” as well as investments in special education, enrichment programs and commitments to hire more nurses, librarians and counselors.

Next Steps

The union and district are scheduled to meet again for further talks after Labor Day, Haber’s statement said.

While UTLA member experiences vary, she acknowledged that many can see their students struggling, either to stay engaged in school or to rebuild from the trauma of the pandemic, Inouye said.

But union members have also questioned whether these extra days are truly voluntary — and Inouye suggested that in going around the union to schedule them, Carvalho was attempting to play off their sympathies.

“I think Carvalho probably thought that … enough teachers would be willing to work those voluntary days because of our sympathy for our students,” Inouye said. “We always go over and above … I think he was counting on that as, ‘Of course teachers are sympathetic or will go out of their way.’”

“He doesn’t know UTLA yet — or he’s learning, I think, that we don’t just fall down and obey,” Inouye said, “when somebody says, ‘do this.’”

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).