LAUSD strike has parents scrambling for day-care sites

Los Angeles, CA - March 21: LAUSD employees and students strike in the rain in front of Farmdale Elementary School in El Sereno Tuesday, March 21, 2023. The massive three-day strike begins, with LAUSD teachers, bus drivers, custodians and other workers shutting down Los Angeles public schools. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
LAUSD employees and students strike in the rain in front of Farmdale Elementary School in El Sereno on Tuesday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Christina Lowe didn't expect to be hauling her young son and daughter to the Pan Pacific Park Recreation Center from their home in Sherman Oaks.

But the strike by Los Angeles Unified School District workers had closed schools, and her kids needed something to do. And so, there she was, in a pouring rain at 9:45 on Tuesday morning, caught up in the chaos.

"We found out this was happening last minute," Lowe said. "I was probably going to stay home with them, but they're bored.

"Even this morning, they woke up and they weren't eating the same. They're like, 'I think I'm just thrown off because it's Tuesday and I think I'm supposed to be at school."

The recreation center — a designated child-care sight operated by the City of L.A. — was a window to the confusion that comes when the daily routines of more than 420,000 children and their families are suddenly upended.

The facility, in the Fairfax District, required advanced registration. But by 9:30 Tuesday morning, many of those who had signed up were no-shows. Many other families arrived, unaware there was a registration system in place.

The site was one of a few doing double duty, providing both grab-and-go meals and on-site child care.

A steady flow of minivans, SUVs and sporty compact cars lined up around the block for meals as dozens of elementary school students sang songs and played tic-tac-toe inside a gym.

“We were anticipating big, big numbers,” site director Eric Calhoun. “This really was very quick for all of us. I got told two days ago, three days ago, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be a site.’”

Baasansuren Altanchimeg, 27, said she learned too late that care was available during the strike.

She brought her children — 5-year-old Bujin, who is in transitional kindergarten at Third Street Elementary School, and 3-year-old Brian, who attends an LAUSD preschool program in Chinatown — to pick up food around 10 a.m. and lamented that the whole process has been frustrating.

“I had to call into work saying, 'School is closed; I cannot work,” said Altanchimeg, a nail technician.

Altanchimeg is also in school herself, studying to become a dental assistant. She arranged for a friend to babysit because she can't miss class for three days.

Across the massive school district, some designated child-care centers were buzzing — and others were practically empty.

Some parents said they were frustrated to learn over the weekend and as late as Monday evening the details about which sites would be available.

Parents reported various levels of academic preparation within L.A. Unified. Some praised their schools and principals for making sure they would have materials — and for the reassurance that more resources would be available on request.

Some teachers made sure their students would have relevant work available at home. Other teachers did not prepare materials, parents reported, and some schools provided less clarity than needed on academics, they said.

At Parmelee Avenue Elementary in South L.A., Cynthia Salazar walked up to the school, another day-care site, with her 8-year-old son, sighing as she dropped him off at about 8:15 a.m. at the school's auditorium.

At that point, her son was one of only three students. A young boy in a Spider-Man jacket and another in a white hoodie sat at desks, quietly looking at laptops.

Salazar understood the struggle for better wages and tenuous balance of work and day care. She had to rush home to get dressed for work at a nearby grocery store, where she gives out food samples.

“They closed the schools. For me? It’s a big problem,” said Salazar.

Shenandoah Elementary School in La Cienega Heights was another site where the school district offered free child care.

Cafeteria worker Norma Leandro — who usually spends the early mornings serving free breakfast to students — had yet to see a single child enter the building by 8 a.m., she said.

"We expected lots of kids here for care, but nobody showed up," said Leandro, who was on strike.

Coordinator Christine Ferreira, of the teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles, said the school had worked hard to inform families about the strike and let parents know that care would be available.

"I was kind of worried about that," she said of the anticipated chaos Tuesday morning. "But I haven't seen any kids. We were anticipating we might have some kids come by saying 'wait, the school's closed?' But we haven't seen any of that."

About 20 students were at the Rosecrans Recreation Center in Gardena — some huddling around a laptop watching a video, others playing Jenga at a table.

Their parents were frantic a day prior, worried they would have no place to take their children during the workday, according to Wesley King, director of the Rosecrans Recreation Center.

But the center houses an after-school program serving students at the nearby elementary school, King said, “so it’s been an easy transition.”

“If it wasn’t raining, then we’d go outside and utilize our soccer field by playing Ultimate Frisbee or something,” King said. “Now, we’ll probably watch a movie."

Monica Arrazola, who is involved with the parent advocacy group Our Voice, spoke on Tuesday morning during the public comments before a closed-session meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Education, which met to discuss labor issues and other matters.

Arrazola has children at Le Conte Middle School and Hollywood High School and demanded an end to the strike because of harm to students, who were out of classes for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They can’t enjoy their school, their teachers, their friends,” said Arrazola, who also was among parents who, earlier in the school year, called for a comprehensive school safety plan after a student died of a fentanyl overdose at Bernstein High in Hollywood.

“We have lived through a lot of violence, surrounded by evil, and now we come to a strike. These students are being impacted a lot emotionally.”

She said she recognizes that there is a right to strike, but “I please ask the union to have a heart with the children."

Arrazola did not make use of child-care services Tuesday, keeping her children home instead. On Tuesday afternoon, her plan was to take them to the L.A. Zoo, because the city was offering free admission to students.

Lourdes Lopez — who earns money by selling items door to door — has children in seventh, fifth and first grade at LAUSD schools, and she also kept them home. One of her kids has a serious disability that requires constant, qualified supervision.

The strike, she said, hurts “financially, mentally, and let’s not even talk about academically.”

Silvia Flores has a son in sixth grade at King Middle School in Los Feliz. Without brothers and sisters, he has a hard time coping at home when there is no school.

Flores has set up a schedule for him to do schoolwork and keeps busy with chores, but she also lets him play computer games just to keep him from becoming sad.

“He became depressed during the pandemic when campuses were closed," she said. "And now with the strike, he gets frustrated because he’s not going to school."

Times staff writer Andrew Campa and Debbie Truong contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.