Teachers at elite, private UCLA Lab School go on strike

Teachers at elite, private UCLA Lab School go on strike

  • US News
  • January 25, 2023
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For decades, the UCLA Lab School, an elite private elementary through sixth grade school nestled in a quiet corner of the UCLA campus, has provided a nurturing environment for students whose parents have won a coveted spot for their child.

Operated by the university’s School of Education and Information Studies as a hands-on educational laboratory, several experienced teachers curate instruction based on evolving practices. The student body is diverse, students are selected for admission, and tuition is up to $25,000, with about a third of students receiving financial aid, the school’s website says.

But teachers – who welcome UCLA researchers into their classrooms, conduct studies themselves and report their findings to educators – are disheartened by the working conditions and are going on strike Wednesday morning. Her public actions offer a rare glimpse into long-simmering conflicts at a school dedicated to modeling best practice in education.

Cristina Paul, right, a bilingual demonstration teacher, and others take part in a protest at the UCLA lab.

Cristina Paul, right, a bilingual demonstration teacher, and supporters attend a protest at the UCLA Lab on Wednesday.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

The teachers say management no longer values ​​the school’s core mission of research and outreach because administration has refused to negotiate terms that serve those interests. Their two-day strike is not about wages or benefits. Instead, they left the company over alleged unfair labor practices.

“We have leadership that doesn’t seem to care about the school’s mission and vision … and very little understanding of the Lab School culture of who we are and what we represent,” said Rebecca Heneise, a dual language demonstration teacher at the Lab School .

On Wednesday morning, the striking demonstration teachers stood and rallied in the pickup and drop-off area behind the school campus. They then marched to the office of the college’s dean, Tina Christie. They shouted, “What do we do when the integrity of our school is attacked? Rise up, fight back!” And in Spanish: “Escucha, Escucha, estamos en la lucha!” Listen, listen, we are in battle.

No one opened the door to Dean Christie’s office. Instead, a staffer from the university’s Industrial Relations Department greeted the group and collected their petition with nearly 2,000 signatures.

“I never dreamed that the teachers at the laboratory school would go on strike,” said Judith Kantor, who has been a teacher at the school since the 1970s. “We work in an environment where people are afraid.”

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

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

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Research, once an important part of the school’s mission, is less of a focus, teachers said. The planning days have been reduced. Some classrooms are limited to one teacher. A $2,000 annual stipend for bilingual teachers who create curriculum in two different languages ​​has been scrapped without notice, the teachers said.

The faculty, who are members of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), say UC management violated their right to negotiate by delaying the process and denying them the right to negotiate a side letter that specified specific working conditions contains to the needs of a laboratory school.

The teachers also say the administration has made changes to the school’s previous practices, including extending the number of school days without their input or negotiation. The university is only open to salary negotiations, which are part of its main contract, which will be ratified in 2021.

On behalf of the teachers, the union filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board last June about unfair labor practices. A hearing on the complaint is planned for spring.

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

“We value the work of our UCLA Lab School Demonstration Teachers, represented by UC-AFT. UCLA is negotiating with the union in good faith and we hope that an agreement can be reached soon,” the university said in a statement.

The lab school faculty were under the same contract as the UC faculty, but the school administration had negotiated a side letter with school-specific terms after ratifying the main contract. Side letters for 2011, 2014 and 2016 were successfully negotiated with no issues, said Bill Quirk, UC-AFT senior negotiator for the Lab School faculty.

Heneise said the teachers asked management to come to the table to negotiate their new side letter in January 2022 and they did not agree to meet before the summer.

“That’s where they didn’t negotiate in good faith,” she said. “They kept stalling and stalling and stalling. At that time they told us that they would only talk about compensation. We gave them 20 suggestions and they said they would only look at the compensation one.”

Negotiations about compensation were also unsuccessful. The teachers asked for a 15 percent raise, which the university countered with 4 percent, which Heneise said doesn’t take into account the rising cost of living over the past three years in which they haven’t received a raise.

The teachers say their demands are to maintain the essence of the UCLA Lab School education that sets it apart from other LA private schools and public schools

The campus is surrounded by redwoods, green space and gardens, and a stream runs through the school, allowing children to study and enjoy nature. The 430 students, ages 4 to 12 from a variety of backgrounds, learn not only the required state curriculum, but also topics of interest to them, including current events and social justice issues.

Other lab schools in the UC system, including UCLA Geffen Academy and the Preuss School at UC San Diego, have negotiated side agreements that contain similar terms.

“We’re not even saying you have to agree to everything,” said Jane Parks, demonstration teacher and alumni of the school. “We often racked our brains about this. It was a very sad time for many of us.”

Parks said she remembers attending school as a girl with a deep sense of autonomy and curiosity. It’s a feeling teachers have been able to recreate over and over again for decades.

“In the last eight years that I’ve been a demonstration teacher, I’ve really seen how much planning it takes to give kids that experience,” she said. “We believe that teaching conditions are learning conditions.”

While teachers were picketing, students in 19 classrooms were being tutored by six apprentice teachers, said Sylvia Gentile, a demonstration teacher on the negotiation team.

Gentile, who teaches sixth graders, said students were curious about the strike.

“You’re in full swing. They ask: “What are you striking for? What will the classroom look like?’ They asked the brilliant question: ‘If we support you, should we come to school tomorrow or should we stay at home?’”

Ayla, a 9-year-old student at the school who joined her mother, Kim Morchower, a demonstration teacher, in the strike, said she was there to support her teachers.

“Learning is fun and always exciting because before I came I didn’t like all subjects. Now I love her,” she said. “They are on strike today because they are not being listened to and they feel the need to be heard … so school can be a better place.”

Rosie Torrez, a bilingual demonstration teacher who has been at the school for 12 years, said she fears the culture that makes the school so special is being taken away.

“The laboratory school has always been a place of creativity, joy and innovation,” she said. “It’s a place where collaboration was valued and encouraged, and where students were taught about advocacy. That’s really why I’m here.”

But without notice, Torrez said some of those planning and professional development days have been taken away, as has her scholarship as a bilingual teacher.

Latoya Baldwin, an instructor at the UCLA School of Law whose 10-year-old son attends the lab school, said she stands behind the demonstration teachers because she saw the difference they made for her son.

“He’s comfortable going to school, he’s comfortable going to school,” she said. “The smile on his face is a smile that says, ‘I trust my teacher.'”

“These are people who are charged with raising my child every day, and when they feel their working conditions are not appropriate, I tend to believe them,” she said. “I tend to believe that the things they ask for are the things they need.”

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