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About 200 teachers, parents, and community supporters teamed up with Occupy L.A. to march on the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday afternoon. Chanting "They say privatize, we say organize" as they marched, protesters spoke out against education cuts that have led to mass layoffs of teachers, librarians, school nurses, and school psychologists, as well as the shuttering of programs at school sites.
At LAUSD headquarters—known as "Beaudry" after the street the building sits on—protesters rallied the crowd around three main demands: that the district lower class sizes and hire back laid-off staff; that budget redistribution prioritize school funding; and that the school district stop converting public schools to charters. The protesters want an end to "corporate-driven reforms" and an end to the influence of wealthy philanthropists like Eli Broad and Bill Gates on schools.
Pasadena resident Paulette Navarro's grandchild doesn't attend school in L.A. Unified, but "when I heard there was a march, I came because all of the education systems are connected," she says. The concerned grandmother says her daughter and son-in-law send their child to a private school, but if the public schools were fully funded and had more resources, they wouldn't have to pay so much money.
Michelle Cohen teaches basic math, GED prep, social studies, and English at Los Angeles Technology Center, an adult education center in South Los Angeles. "My students are the parents and grandparents of LAUSD kids," she says. "I'm tired of seeing these students and communities who are working so hard have their education resources taken away while the rich don't pay their fair share."
Liz Bernier's mom is a teacher-librarian in L.A. Unified. Last spring, the district put the librarians—who must have two credentials for their job—through a formal review to determine if they deserved to keep their positions. "They've had all kinds of cuts and it's just not right," says Bernier.
Juana Chavez, Elia Lara, Joanne Carvajal, and Daniel Sotelo teach at UCLA Community School. "We're not really happy with the government giving bailouts to banks while we're forced to fight for the crumbs," Chavez says. "It's not just about us wanting higher teacher salaries. The whole system isn't being funded."
Art teacher Boriana Iamboliyski came to the march with two fellow social studies teachers from Hollywood High School, Neil Fitzpatrick and Michael Ulmer. "We want to highlight awareness that the issues being raised by Occupy Los Angeles are one and the same as teacher issues," Fitzpatrick says. "We are all part of the 99 percent."
Sarah Phillips runs an early college and trade tech program at Jefferson High School. "I'm not here because my job is in jeopardy," she says. "I'm worried about my students." Phillips says huge class sizes and a budget cuts are negatively affecting the kids. She hopes the Occupy LAUSD movement will ultimately "open a dialogue between the haves and the have-nots," and convince people to invest in education.
Fourth-grade teacher Tom Louie, high school history teacher Lisa Karahalios, and substitute teacher T. Carlin want voters to hold the school board accountable. "Board members need to focus on fixing the problems in LAUSD schools," Karahalios says, "not using the school board as a political stepping stone."
Larry Shoham, a seventh-grade history teacher, says he "can't teach kids when they come to me hungry, when they don't have a stable place to sleep, or when their parents lose their jobs." Shoham plans to camp out at night in front of LAUSD headquarters to protest the school district. "Education reformers like to talk about teacher unions defending the status quo. I'm here to contest that notion," he says. "Every day I go to work I'm in the trenches, fighting to change the status quo."
Special education teacher Kirsten Ellis says budget cuts have made her job more difficult because they've resulted in raised class sizes and laying off teacher assistants and other support staff. Ellis is asking for special education to be fully funded and laid-off teachers rehired, saying she wants to end the "top down, corporate" way the district works and "put the parent voice" back into schools.
Amanda, a 20-year-old protester, dropped out of high school four years ago. "I'm not against teachers,” she says. "They were just as frustrated with what they couldn't teach as I was." She quit school because she didn't feel "challenged to her full capacity." Now Amanda is a musician in a punk band called Socialized Crucifixion and is living at the permanent Occupy Los Angeles site in front of City Hall. She hopes the Occupy LAUSD protest will "connect people who care about education."