For decades, the UCLA Lab School, an elite private school from Pre-K through sixth grade 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 .
Led by the university’s School of Education and Information Studies as their hands-on teaching lab, multiple expert faculty members curate lessons based on changing 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 the teachers – who welcome UCLA researchers into their classrooms, conduct studies themselves and report their findings to teachers – have become disheartened by the working conditions and went on strike Wednesday morning. Their public actions provide rare insight into long-simmering conflicts at a school dedicated to modeling best practice in education.
The teachers say management no longer values the school’s core business of research and outreach because administrators have refused to negotiate terms that serve these interests. Their two-day strike is not about salaries or benefits. Instead, they walked out because of alleged unfair labor practices.
“We have a leadership that seems unconcerned about the mission and vision of the school…and has very little understanding of the lab school culture, 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 at the pick-up and drop-off area behind the school campus and gathered. Then they marched to the office of the dean of the school of education, Tina Christie. They chanted, “If the integrity of our school is attacked, what do we do? Get up, fight back!” And in Spanish, “Escucha, Escucha, estamos and la lucha!“Listen, listen, we are in battle.
No one answered the door to Dean Christie’s office. Instead, an employee of the university’s labor relations department greeted the group and collected their petition of nearly 2,000 signatures.
“I never dreamed teachers would go on strike at the lab school,” says Judith Kantor, who has been a teacher at the school since the 1970s. “We work in an environment where people are afraid.”
Research, once an important part of the school’s mission, has become less of a focus, teachers said. Plan days have been shortened. Some classrooms are limited to one teacher. A $2,000 annual stipend for bilingual teachers, who create curricula in two different languages, was withdrawn without notice, teachers said.
The faculty, which is a member of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), says UC management violated their right to negotiate by delaying the process and denying them the right to negotiate a side letter containing specific employment conditions. to the needs of a laboratory school.
Teachers also say the administration has made changes to the school’s past practices, including extending the number of school days without their input or negotiation. The university is only open to negotiating salary, which is part of their primary contract, ratified in 2021.
On behalf of the teachers, the union filed a complaint about unfair labor practices with the Public Employment Relations Board last June. There will be a hearing on the complaint in the spring.
The university declined to comment on details of the negotiations.
“We appreciate 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.
Lab school faculty have had the same contract as UC teachers, but school administrators negotiated a cover letter with specific terms for the school after the main contract was ratified. Side letters for the years 2011, 2014 and 2016 were successfully negotiated with no issues, said Bill Quirk, UC-AFT chief negotiator for the lab school faculty.
Heneise said the teachers had asked management to come to the table in January 2022 to negotiate their new side letter and would not meet until the summer.
“That there was that they weren’t negotiating in good faith,” she said. “They just kept racking and racking and racking. Then they told us they would only talk about compensation. We passed on 20 proposals to them and they said they would only look at the compensation proposal.”
However, even negotiations for compensation have not been successful. The teachers asked for a 15% raise, which the university countered with 4%, which Heneise says does not explain the rising cost of living over the past three years, during which they have not received a raise.
The teachers say their demands are about preserving the essence of UCLA Lab School education that sets it apart from other private and public schools in LA
The campus is surrounded by redwoods, green space and gardens, and a stream flows through the school allowing the children to study and appreciate nature. The 430 students from ages 4 to 12 from diverse backgrounds learn not only the compulsory state curriculum, but also topics that interest them and current events and social justice issues.
Other lab schools in the UC system, including UCLA Geffen Academy and Preuss School at UC San Diego, have negotiated side letters with similar terms.
“We’re not even saying you have to agree with everything,” says Jane Parks, a demonstration teacher and alumna of the school. “We have often pondered this. It has been a very sad time for many of us.”
Parks said she remembers going to the school as a girl with a deep sense of autonomy and curiosity. It’s a feeling that teachers have managed to emulate for decades.
“For the past eight years as a demonstration teacher, I’ve really seen how much planning it takes to give kids that experience,” she said. “We believe that learning conditions are learning conditions.”
As teachers protested, students in 19 classrooms were taught by six student teachers, said Sylvia Gentile, a demonstration teacher on the negotiating team.
Gentile, who teaches sixth graders, said the students were curious about the strike.
‘They’re done with it. They say, ‘What do you stand 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 home?’”
Ayla, a 9-year-old student at the school who was on strike with her mother, Kim Morchower, a demonstration teacher, said she was there to support her teachers.
“They make learning fun and it’s always exciting because before I came I didn’t like all the subjects. Now I love them,” she said. “They stand out today because they are not being listened to and they feel the need to be heard… so that the school can be a better place.”
Rosie Torrez, a bilingual demonstration teacher who has been with the school for 12 years, said she fears the culture that makes the school so special is being taken away.
“The lab school has always been a place of creativity, joy and innovation,” she said. “It’s a place where collaboration was valued and encouraged, and students learn about advocacy. That’s really why I’m here.”
But without notice, Torrez said some of those planning and professional development days were taken away, as was her allowance for being a bilingual teacher.
Latoya Baldwin, a teacher at the UCLA School of Law whose 10-year-old son attends lab school, said she stands with the demonstration teachers because she’s seen the difference they’ve made for her son.
“It’s that he feels happy going to school, he feels comfortable going to school,” she said. “The smile on his face is a smile that says, ‘I trust my teacher.'”
“These are people who have to raise my child every day and if they feel their working conditions are not fair I tend to believe them,” she said. “I tend to believe that the things they ask for are the things they need.”