Tucked into a small art studio at a California university, Sea Krob took their 3-year-old and 7-year-old to graduate school with them because they didn’t have a daycare option this week.
They are one of the parents of the half-million students who are out of school for three days because of the Los Angeles Unified School District school worker strike.
“It’s really frustrating that the one thing that was supposed to be dependable is not,” Krob, 32, told CNN. “And it’s not because the workers are striking, but it’s because LAUSD would rather make time to find volunteers and make plans for our kids not to be in school than just meet the needs of the people that they’ve employed.”
The stakes are high for school workers, including bus drivers, custodians and other support staff represented by Service Employees International Union Local 99 asking for more equitable wages, more work hours and more staffing to provide better student services.
It is the same district that shut down for a six-day strike in 2019, when teachers went to the picket lines to fight for smaller class sizes, more staff and an increase in wages.
This strike has left parents scrambling to find childcare, many cobbling together creative solutions to keep their children on track with school, while also working their full-time jobs.
For Krob, that’s meant notifying individual professors of their situation and asking if they can bring their two children with to classes. Krob is a full-time graduate student pursuing art at California State University, Long Beach.
“My partner is out of sick days for the year already – it’s March – so I am on the whims of whatever professor I have to have my kids come with me,” they said.
For safety and liability reasons, Krob cannot take their children into the art lab where they work, so they had to forgo their lab hours this week, they said. Instead, they are getting creative with how they spend time during the strike and borrowing art supplies from a university office.
“I just stretched out a big piece of paper so that we could color on it for the three days and make art, hang out and do our best,” they said.
Krob commutes on public transit two hours each way to get to the university from their Los Angeles home. It’s been an extra challenge doing that with their two children in the pouring rain this week.
What frustrates Krob, who supports the staff on strike, is that the resources for parents are through the school system, which is shut down, they said. They wish there was more support for parents.
“I think that the people who are striking are totally within their right and they should be able to engage in a strike and parents still have resources to be able to take care of their kids, and that shouldn’t be cut off.”
Sandra Colton-Medici, an online business entrepreneur, has two children in two different situations: Only one of them gets to go to school this week.
Her 5-year-old daughter attends kindergarten at a LAUSD school, while her 3-year-old attends some classes at a private school.
“I had to wake up both of them and say, ‘One of you is going to school and the other one is not,” Colton-Medici said. “That was a little bit difficult for one to say, ‘But what do you mean I’m not going to school?’”
Her 5-year-old didn’t understand that her teachers and support staff are marching outside the school, but they aren’t in school today, she said. The 44-year-old broke it down into simple terms to explain the strike to her children.
“The teachers and the support staff there, they’re going to talk to their employer, their boss, to say we need more to take care of ourselves,” Colton-Medici said. “In order to do that, they have to take a break from school.”
In a moment of innocence, she says her oldest daughter asked, “‘So do they need money? I have money in my coin purse.’”
Her daughter’s teacher provided informational and educational packets to do at home and Colton-Medici is doing her best to act as a fill-in educator – all while running her business from home.
“If I had to grade myself with how I’m dealing with their time off from school and me balancing that thing that people call work-life balance, I would probably say I’m giving myself a 10 for effort and like a six for like completion,” she said. “I know that there’s going to be something that I’ve missed.”
Colton-Medici’s husband is working in the office, but he stayed at home Tuesday morning to care for their older daughter while she took their toddler to her school. She’s grateful she can also call on her mother if she needs backup childcare, especially since she said there was enough advance notice of the strike to make plans.
“I know by Thursday, in a few days, it might be a little overwhelming, especially since I do run my own business from home,” she said.
Colton-Medici said she feels for the support staff when she sees them ushering kids into school, walking them to the nurse or giving them a hug at the end of the day. She knows that some of those staffers work as crossing guards and have double duties.
She said it’s important to support the people on strike and make sure they are valued. She reminds people that some of these support staffers also have children in school, some of whom may be at home because their parents are on strike.
“Yes, we are pseudo inconvenienced, but how do you get inconvenienced by your own child?” Colton-Medici said. “I’m just trying to be better, trying to be more of an educator today, in addition to being able to hug my kids because I think that’s really important too.”
While the strike is inconvenient for parents in the district, Wade Armstrong says he and his wife have the flexibility to make it work with their son, Declan, being out of school.
“We’re really lucky because my wife and I, we both work at home,” Armstrong, 47, told CNN. “It’s not such a big impact in terms of we have to find child care and stuff like that, which some of our friends do have to do.”
Yet, the parents are concerned because of the learning time that’s lost for all children during the strike.
“It’s annoying and we’re sad to see the learning loss for our kids,” Armstrong said. “It’s really coming on the heels of the holidays and with spring break coming up soon, it really feels like we’ve barely even had a spring semester.”
Their son is a fourth grader, but this isn’t the first time the 9-year-old has been affected by a strike. He was in kindergarten during the 2019 LAUSD strike.
The previous strike was tougher for the Armstrongs to deal with, as neither of them were working from home and they needed child care. This time around, their son is older and more self-sufficient.
Armstrong said the materials sent home from school aren’t directly related to what’s going on in the classroom, so he’s focusing more on spending time with his son and having some of Declan’s friends over to help other parents.
While Armstrong said he’s “disappointed” that the district and the union couldn’t reach a resolution, he understands why so many staffers are on the picket lines.
Armstrong said his son talks fondly about classroom aides who help special needs students, and they make time to help the whole class with projects. Cafeteria workers are also doing admirable work, especially after feeding so many children during the pandemic, he said.
“There’s a lot of the aides and staff in our schools who really aren’t getting paid much at all and I know how essential they are from what my son tells me about his days in school,” Armstrong said. “I hope they get paid.”