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LAUSD Tries To Block Special Education Teachers From Striking

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the union that represents Los Angeles Unified School District teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, speaks in front of school district headquarters on Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC)
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Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District have asked a federal judge to block some, but not all, members of district's teachers union from going on strike.

In legal documents filed Thursday, the school district asks U.S. District Judge Ronald S. W. Lew to prevent any member of United Teachers Los Angeles "who provides services to LAUSD special education students" from going on strike.

The move comes one week before the Jan. 10 strike deadline recently set by UTLA union leadership, who've said they'll call for a work stoppage if they haven't resolved a long-running contract dispute with LAUSD by then.

A statement from the district said it was a move designed to ensure "more than 60,000 students" who receive special education services -- because of a disability or special need -- "do not lose access to the critical services they need."

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It's not immediately clear how many UTLA educators would be blocked from striking if the judge grants the district's request, but it's possible that the order could prevent certain teachers, social workers, nurses and psychologists from walking out.

Earlier in the day, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said union negotiators were open meeting as early as Monday with district officials -- if LAUSD could come forward with "a legitimate and clear offer."

"Forgive us if we're a little bit skeptical" of the district's current proposals, Caputo-Pearl said during a wide-ranging interview on KPCC's AirTalk, "but we want to try to work it out."

Later in the day, UTLA issued a statement criticizing the district's legal maneuver, accusing Beutner of "using our most vulnerable students as pawns" and trying to bring the labor dispute "into an arena where it doesn't belong."

In spite of that criticism, Monday's session with LAUSD is apparently still on. The statement continued: "We hope Beutner sees the error in this strategy and brings real proposals to support these teachers and students to our meeting."

In their filings, LAUSD attorneys invoked the Chanda Smith case, a 1993 class-action suit alleging that the school district wasn't providing adequate special education services to its most vulnerable students.

Since 1996, when the case was settled, LAUSD's special education services have been monitored by a federal judge, most recently under terms of a 2003 "modified consent decree." As a result, disability advocates say it's gotten easier for students to access special education services -- and the district has done more to ensure more special education students are integrated into typical classroom settings.

The district argued in its court filings that the terms of the Chanda Smith settlement "require that the district ensure the provision of special education services to students, and noncompliance may constitute a violation" of that settlement.

"A strike," the district argued, "would severely hamper the district's ability to meet its special education obligations."

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4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with a quote from UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl's Thursday morning appearance on AirTalk.

8:20 p.m.: This article was updated with UTLA's new statement reacting to the district's legal filing.

This article was originally published at 3:00 p.m.

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