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Hunger Strike Blog

by Sean Leys Saturday, Jun. 06, 2009 at 2:43 PM
seanleys@riseup.net

Blog of teacher/hunger striker working to stop class size increases and teacher layoffs in LAUSD

On Wednesday a week and a half ago, a group of teachers and activist partners and I began a hunger strike and a series of campouts in front of schools in order to stop class size increases and new teacher layoffs at LAUSD. We had several goals, but they basically boiled down to reframing the public image of the campaign, inspire more involvement from our school communities, inspire our union to take a stand for these issues, and inspire (or at least pressure) the school board, and superintendent to move towards a negotiated settlement.


Last night State Senator Gloria Romero joined us at the campout in front of Miguel Contreras Learning Center. She very generously gave me much more time than I expected, over a half an hour, to discuss the issues one-on-one. She was very concerned and motherly and repeatedly gave me her personal support as a dedicated individual and activist. I told her about myself and my family and explained my purpose and my beliefs about education as a civil rights issue and about the lack of leadership we're seeing from the board, and especially from Mónica García. Her reply was that I shouldn't be quick to judge Mónica, that she and Mónica were close, and that I might understand Mónica's position better if I was getting the daily updates of the billions of dollars being cut from California's education budget. I agreed that up until now I had always been a supporter of Mónica's but feel like she has given up the fight when the kids needs her most.


She also asked me about how my students and the other teachers were feeling at Lincoln High, where I teach. I told her the kids are with me, that they are often my inspiration, that they are working harder than ever and are showing tremendous concern and gratitude for me. Of course, they also love waving bags of Takis under my nose whenever they can. Traviesos. But I also told her about the terrible mood swings the faculty is suffering, how they alternate between excitement that the struggle is building and despair that we are too little too late and that layoffs are looming. Teachers are filling out unemployment forms and schools are interviewing for their replacements but they still have to come teach every day. And then they're supposed to show up to unpaid afterschool meetings to plan for next year!!! It's too inhuman. And worse for the future of our movement, administrators have launched a campaign of intimidation against activist teachers. One of our activists and best math teachers, Mr. Olmedo, has been removed from the classroom and sent to sit in an office all day. Other teachers have been told they are under investigation but it is never followed up on or administrators say in passing that they need to meet with teachers but won't say why and then never schedule the meeting, little things that add up to create a climate of fear.


Our conversation continued about what is my perception of the struggle for the next few years. We agreed that changing the 2/3 requirement to pass a budget in Sacramento was essential to long term change. We talked about other ideas I had which she very politely told me were naive. I tried to impress upon her my belief that she and others in Sacramento needed to be thinking about bold, drastic revisions of the way the state of California handles its money and that we need to build a movement to make that happen.


Finally she offered to take back a message to Mónica García and Yolie Flores-Aguilar for me. I told her my message was that we need them to step up and be leaders. These layoffs and attacks on teachers, increases in class sizes, and refusal to negotiate in good faith with the teachers' union are distractions that demoralize the very people we need to be organizing and inspiring to fight. Senator Romero agreed to take the message and I believe she has. The struggle continues.

-Sean Leys, day 10

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