The hunger strike against the cuts and layoffs being implemented by the Los Angeles United School District is in its 18th day.
Most of the protesting teachers while drinking only water have been working a full class schedule while participating in this fast that started on May 27th.
The activists have taken up the hunger strike in one of several ways. Some teachers are taking a leapfrog approach and relieving each other by taking up the fast when a colleague can no longer physically participate. This approach gives the students some assurance that their teachers can alertly deal with the school day, which is terrifically essential in the critical areas that these instructors work in.
And then there are the long distance people such as Sean Leys, Martin Torrones or Kait Leonard. Ms. Leonard is on her 13th day without food, while Sean Leys and Martin Torrones are each at 18 days of self imposed starvation.
Last fridays announcement by district Superintendent Ramon Cortines that 505 teacher pink slips had been rescinded has not stopped this protest.
There are still 2500 teaching jobs scheduled for layoff in the next week, which according to all involved will inflate class size to unmanageable levels leaving the students in the poorer parts of LA at a severe academic disadvantage. Some schools may lose 50% of their teaching staff.
The UTLA has cited that the LAUSD has restored 1000 non-teaching positions and that those restored jobs should have been teaching or counseling positions.
In a press statement that the UTLA issued on Friday they argued for two points ......
The District can save jobs and stop class-size increase by:
• Spending Title 1 money centrally. The decision to send the money to schools with no time or preparation to make informed staffing decisions will result in large numbers of displaced teachers and inequities in class size across LAUSD. In elementary schools, more out-of-classroom personnel were hired than classroom teachers. Complaints have been filed by UTLA on behalf of more than 40 schools that decisions made by School Site Councils were ignored or overturned.
• Making more significant, transparent cuts to nonessential spending. Some meaningful reductions have been made, but in a District whose bureaucracy has grown much faster than student enrollment, we know there is more to cut. LAUSD should, for example, close the eight costly mini-Districts.
Details aside, the main thrust of the protest is that this is a civil rights issue as opposed to a labor dispute, since the severest of the layoffs are happening in disadvantaged latino and black schools in the toughest and most gang populated areas of LA.
The signs of the wear and tear on the hunger strikers are becoming more than apparent. A day ago Martin Torrones needed a wheelchair as his leg muscles began to fail him. English teacher Sean Leys used to walk a moderate distance to his teaching position at Lincoln High each morning but not lately...no food for 18 days has left him looking just on the good side of gaunt.
The fasting teachers who wear black armbands are surrounded each evening by a group of supporters made up of community activists, parents, students and fellow instructors who wear a pink arm band of support in contrast.
Each evening the hunger strikers also help to organize a potluck dinner for these non fasting supporters with food supplied by everyone from parents and teachers to local restaurants. Of course one reels a bit from that almost absurd juxtaposition until you see how Ghandian and selfless it is for these folks to be more concerned about their communities' stomachs than their own.
The teachers are maintaining a positive and embracing attitude which according to those asked is due to the stream of well wishers such as Dolores Huerta who stopped by on Friday to bolster the spirits of the participants with memories and advice from her days of working with Ceaser Chavez and their cofounding of the United Farm Workers.
The following sets of photos are from the 9th, 11th and 12th of June. The camper/ hunger strikers were at the Santee Learning Center and the LAUSD headquarters.
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