LOS ANGELES — Elizabeth Rietz says it hasn't been easy taking care of her daughter at home during the first two days of a strike by Los Angeles teachers while she and her husband try to start their own clothing line. But she believes it's the right thing to do.
Like many parents, Rietz, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at Ivanhoe Elementary School in the middle-class neighborhood of Silver Lake, has taken on the extra burden in solidarity with 30,000 teachers demanding higher pay, smaller class sizes, more staff and less testing.
"We're choosing to struggle because we support the teachers. And we would rather struggle at home and try to entertain our daughter while we work, so that we can send a message to the district that we believe that class sizes should be reduced," Rietz, 42, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials have kept its 900 schools open during the two-day strike using administrators and substitute teachers, mindful that many working-class parents can't afford child care.
But only about a third of the district's 492,000 students turned up on the first day of the work stoppage, as many parents chose to keep their children home. The Los Angeles Zoo, La Brea Tar Pits and museums in the area have offered free admission to students during the strike.
Even with attendance down sharply, limited staffing meant schools gathered students in gymnasiums for "independent study."
The walkout entered its second day on Tuesday, three days after negotiations broke down over a new contract and with no new talks scheduled between the district and United Teachers Los Angeles, or UTLA.
UTLA negotiators have demanded a 6.5 percent pay raise. Teacher pay currently averages $75,000 in the district, according the California Department of Education. The district has offered a 6 percent raise with back pay.
Rietz is among a group of Ivanhoe parents who decided in discussions on social media to keep their children home.
Michelle Crames, 42, said she kept her fourth-grade daughter home from Wonderland Avenue Elementary School while sending her two other children to class at Larchmont Charter School.
The expansion of charter schools has been a sticking point in negotiations. Union negotiators say they drain higher-performing students and their more engaged parents from traditional campuses.
"I think the charter parents are very informed. A lot of us work very hard for our schools," Crames said. But she agreed with teachers that classes should be smaller.
She said keeping her daughter home was a gesture of support for the walkout, which she said she could offer because of the "privilege" of her economic stability.
Her daughter was spending the week building her own computer.