UCLA’s private elite lab teachers went on strike

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For decades, UCLA Lab School, an elite private K-6 school located in a quiet corner of UCLA’s campus, has provided a nurturing environment for students whose parents have won the coveted spot. for their child.

As a hands-on learning laboratory, several expert faculty members, under the direction of the university’s School of Education and Information Science, teach lessons based on emerging practices. The student body is diverse, students are screened for admission and tuition can be as high as $25,000, with one-third of students receiving financial aid, according to the school’s website.

But teachers who welcome UCLA researchers into their classrooms, conduct their own research and report their findings to teachers, frustrated by working conditions, went on strike Wednesday morning. Their public actions rarely glimpse the conflicts that have long simmered at a school designed to model best practices in education.

Christina Paul, right, a bilingual demonstration teacher, and her supporters take part in a protest at a UCLA lab on Wednesday.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Teachers say the administration no longer values ​​the school’s core mission of research and outreach because administrators have refused to negotiate terms that serve those interests. Their two-day strike is not about wages or benefits. Instead, they rejected unfair labor practices.

“We have leadership that doesn’t care about the school’s mission and vision… and very little understanding of the lab school culture, who we are and what we stand for. said Rebecca Heneise, bilingual demonstration teacher at the laboratory school.

On Wednesday morning, the striking teachers staged a rally at the pick-up and drop-off area behind the school campus. Then they went to the office of Tina Christie, Dean of the School of Education. They asked, “What will we do if the integrity of our school is attacked?” Stand up, fight back!” And in Spanish “Escucha, Escucha, estamos en la lucha!”“Listen, listen, we are fighting.

No one answered the door to Dean Christie’s office. Instead, an employee of the university’s labor relations department met the group and collected about 2,000 of their signatures.

“I never imagined that teachers would go on strike at a lab school,” said Judith Cantor, who has taught at the school since the 1970s. “We work in an environment where people are afraid. »

UCLA Lab School teachers and supporters are on strike because the university won't negotiate with them on their proposals.

UCLA Lab School teachers and supporters are on strike because the university won’t negotiate with them on their proposals.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Research, once a central part of the school’s mission, has been de-prioritized, teachers say. Planning days are shortened. Some classes were limited to one teacher. A $2,000 annual stipend for bilingual teachers who create programs in two different languages ​​has been cut without notice, the teachers said.

The faculty members, who are members of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), say UC management violated their right to bargain by delaying the process and denying them their right to bargain in a letter covering specific working conditions. the need for a laboratory school.

The teachers also say the administration made changes to the school’s past practices, including extending school days without their input or consultation. The university is only open to negotiating salaries that are part of its ratified master contract in 2021.

On behalf of the teachers, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Employment Public Relations Commission last June. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for spring.

The university declined to comment on the details of the negotiations.

“We appreciate the work of the UCLA Laboratory School Demonstration Teachers provided by UC-AFT. UCLA is engaged in good faith negotiations with the union and we hope an agreement can be reached quickly,” the university said in a statement.

Lab School teachers were under the same contract as UC teachers, but school administrators negotiated a supplemental letter with school-specific terms after the primary contract was ratified. . Cover letters for 2011, 2014 and 2016 were successfully negotiated without a hitch, said Bill Quirk, chief negotiator for UC-AFT’s lab school faculty.

Heneise said teachers have asked management to come to the table to negotiate new pay letters in January 2022, and they won’t agree to a meeting until the summer.

“It is true that they did not negotiate in good faith,” he said. “They stopped and stopped and stopped. At that time, they told us that they would only talk about compensation. We sent them 20 offers and they said they would only consider the compensation offer.

However, compensation negotiations also failed. The teachers demanded a 15% raise, the university countered with 4%, which Heneiz said did not take into account cost-of-living increases over the past three years, but they didn’t. did not receive an increase.

Teachers say their goal is to preserve the essence of the UCLA Lab School education, which sets it apart from other Los Angeles private and public schools.

The campus is surrounded by redwoods, green space and gardens, and the stream that flows through the school allows children to study and enjoy nature. Its 430 students, ages 4 to 12, come from diverse backgrounds and learn not only the state’s mandated curriculum, but also topics of interest, current events, and social justice issues.

Other lab schools in the UC system, including UCLA’s Geffen Academy and UC San Diego’s Preuss School, have negotiated cover letters with similar terms.

“We’re not even saying you have to accept everything,” said Jane Parks, a demonstration teacher and former student at the school. “We brainstormed a lot. It was a very sad time for many of us.

Parks said she remembers going to school as a girl with a sense of independence and curiosity. This is a sentiment echoed by teachers for decades.

“For the past eight years, I’ve been a demonstration teacher, and I’ve really seen the amount of planning that goes into imparting that experience to kids,” she said. “We believe that learning conditions are learning conditions.”

Six student teachers taught the 19th grade when the teachers walked out, said Sylvia Gentile, a demonstration teacher with the bargaining team.

Gentile, who teaches sixth-graders, said the students were interested in the strike.

“They are everywhere. They said, “Why are you knocking?” How is the class? They said, “If we support you, will we go to school tomorrow or stay at home?” asked a great question.

Ayla, a 9-year-old student at the school, said she joined her mother, Kim Morchover, on strike to show support for her teachers.

“They make learning fun and that’s always fun because I didn’t like all the subjects before I came. Now I love them,” he said. “They’re shocked today because they’re not being listened to and they feel they need to be heard to make the school a better place.”

Rosie Torrez, a bilingual demonstration teacher who has worked at the school for 12 years, said she fears it will take away the culture that makes the school special.

“Lab School has always been a place of creativity, joy and innovation,” he said. “It’s a place where collaboration is valued and encouraged and where students learn to advocate. I’m really here.

But, Torres said, without warning, some of the planning and professional development days were cut, along with the stipend she receives for being a bilingual teacher.

UCLA Law School faculty member Latoya Baldwin, whose 10-year-old son attends the lab school, said she supports the demonstration teachers because she’s seen the difference they make. made for his son.

“He feels happy when he goes to school, he feels comfortable when he goes to school,” he says. “The smile on his face is a smile that says, ‘I trust my teacher.'”

“These are the people who are responsible for my child’s education every day, and if they think their working conditions are unreasonable, I believe them,” she says. “I believe that what they are asking for is what they need.”

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