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Looking Back on the LAUSD Strike of 1970

| News | January 24, 2019

When Los Angeles teachers walked out in 1970, Carol Goodman felt apprehension.

“I wasn’t excited,” said Goodman, who as Carol Steinhardt was a senior at Cleveland High, and only about two months from graduation when about half the United Teachers Los Angeles union struck April 13 seeking higher pay, smaller class sizes and increased spending. “We didn’t know what to expect. We were very concerned about whether we’d graduate. Would we complete the (academic) requirements?”

Over 45 minutes Monday, Goodman reminisced about that time, recalling what she could about living through a strike that lasted 30 days and expressing gratitude that she worked for a school district (William S. Hart) that never has come close to an impasse.

One point Goodman made again and again was what a different time 1970 was versus 2019. With no cell phones, no internet and no social media, information about the strike came from either the Los Angeles Times, the Valley News and Green Sheet (now Daily News) or the teachers themselves.

“It (the strike) did not come out of left field, but we certainly didn’t have a media blitz like you do now,” Goodman said. “The teachers spoke of it a little bit, but as I recall, not much. They didn’t want to influence the students on way or the other. There might have been some sanctions against that, for all I know.”

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Other signs of different times: Administrators called parents, threatening that the strike would prevent the seniors from graduating, she said. The school district hired retired people (Goodman stressed “people,” not “teachers”) and driver-training instructors from private schools to come in and teach, even though it was more like babysitting. “They didn’t have the vetting process they have now,” she said.

One such person was in charge of Goodman’s physiology class, but the students pulled a prank on her by dressing up a plastic dummy with a shirt, sunglasses and hat and seating it as far away from the teacher as possible. Whenever somebody cut class, the dummy became that student, and other classmates would answer “here” during roll call.

“She was blind as a bat,” Goodman said of that teacher.

She remembers going to school every day (“Parents didn’t have the inclination to keep their kids out of school,” she said), but she couldn’t recall if she was in class the entire time. A social studies teacher who did not strike held combined classes in the library three days a week, which Goodman said was her introduction to what her college life at San Fernando Valley State (now California State University, Northridge) would be like.

An assistant principal took over Goodman’s English class, she said, and it became more like a creative writing class.

Because the school didn’t have enough staff to adequately watch the approximately 3,000 students, the campus was opened at lunch; Goodman’s friend Eva-Lynne Socher (now Leibman) would drive the two of them in her parent’s car to a McDonald’s on Ventura Boulevard for lunch.

Goodman said she would talk to the teachers who were picketing and complain about what was going on and how much she missed them. She stressed she and her fellow students did not join the protests.

Since the strike lasted as long as it did, it took a financial toll on some teachers. Goodman said a teacher she was fond of came back after three weeks.

“I remember him looking so sad and distraught, and he didn’t want to talk about coming back to work,” she said. “I think he felt very badly that he had to, but financially he just couldn’t afford it.”

When the strike ended May 13, teachers had won their first contract, 5-percent raises, smaller classes (although Goodman did not recall overcrowding) and advisory councils on which they would share power with administrators. But they lost an average of $1,100 while on strike and failed to gain more funding from Sacramento, where Gov. Ronald Reagan was unsympathetic.

A court later found that state law did not allow for collective bargaining and threw out the contract. This led to the 1975 Rodda Act, which established the teachers’ right to collectively bargain.

Goodman said she was “relieved” when the strike was over, but teachers did not accept the work the students did in those weeks, so Goodman and her classmates went to school an hour earlier and stayed an hour later to make up the time and work.

But overall, she regrets the strike.

“It was difficult,” she said. “I loved going to school the whole time I was in school, and it was important for me to be there. There was anxiety, of course, and a feeling of, ‘Why are we even doing this? This is silly,’ as far as the work we were given.”

The strike had one effect on Goodman: One reason she and her then-husband moved to Santa Clarita was to avoid enrolling their children in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her son and daughter graduated from Saugus. She said her son’s a realtor in Reno, Nev., and her daughter is a professor in Kazakhstan.

As for Goodman, she retired from the Hart district in 2015 after 32 years, first at Saugus as the registrar and then at district headquarters overseeing the student information system. She also spent time at Hart as an assistant speech and debate coach.

“The horror stories I hear, we look at each other and say, ‘Thank God we’re in the Hart district,’ ” she said.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

One Response to “Looking Back on the LAUSD Strike of 1970”

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