A slow but steady parade of cars drove through the La Familia Maple Neighborhood Center parking lot in South Sacramento Thursday, pausing only for drivers to extend their arm out of the window and grab a set of meals. A smaller trickle of families walked up to the Sacramento City Unified School District’s nutrition services staff who were preparing the food.
Latanya Smith, who sat in her car waiting in line, said the food distribution has been helpful as the district’s teachers and classified workers continue to strike. This school year is Smith’s kids’ first year attending district schools.
“It’s just a little different, not knowing what’s gonna happen next,” she said. “Are we gonna go back to digital school or not? My kids loved it, because they’re at home and they can run to the bathroom and the kitchen, within a small distance … but where’s the social aspect and things of that nature?”
Lines like the one at the center have been consistent for much of the week as SCUSD campuses remain closed. More than 70% of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced price meals, and many rely on the daily meals given through school.
The district gave out more than 14,000 food packages — with breakfast, lunch and fresh fruit — at its nine community pick-up sites during the first three days of the strike this week, according to Kelsey Nederveld, assistant director of the district’s Nutrition Services department.
A team of about 30 volunteers, some of them parents who brought their children, helped the nutrition services team with distribution.
Nederveld says the district will continue serving the meals at the sites until the strike is over.
“Everybody needs to give a little bit”
The strike has no set end date. Leaders with the Sacramento City Teachers Association and the SEIU Local 1021 say they will continue to strike as long as the district refuses to accept recommendations from a neutral, third-party fact-finder. They say that would help move negotiations between the district and teachers’ union forward.
District leaders say the SCTA should counter the most recent proposal that increases pay, despite being short of what the union is asking. The district said it’s willing to meet with the union over the weekend in order to end the strike before the next school week.
On Friday, state Superintendent Tony Thurmond invited all parties to meet, including the Sacramento County Office of Education, his office confirmed. But SCUSD declined the meeting and asked the teachers union to counter the district's latest offer, which they made Tuesday.
No meetings have been set between the district and teachers union. The district says it plans to meet with the staff union on March 30.
Meanwhile, parents who spoke with CapRadio say they are in the lurch, some using other resources for education, childcare and food. In addition to food lines, the 4th R Child Care sites operated by the city of Sacramento are staying open during regular business hours.
(Find more information about meal distribution and other services that remain available during the strike here.)
“If the strike continues … it’ll kind of be like we’re back at those beginning stages of COVID-19, where we’re balancing work and school together,” said Kristin Goree, who has a kindergartener and fourth grader attending Bancroft Elementary.
She took her kids to the picket line at Bancroft this week and said she’s taking the teachers’ words “at face value.”
“That’s like your first-hand source,” she said. “I think that teachers have really struggled over the last two years in the pandemic, they haven’t really been given any leeway. Our teachers are completely undervalued and they deserve so much more.”
Though Goree supports the teachers, she said she also hopes people understand the current situation isn’t cut-and-dry.
“In this situation, there’s no party that is 100% at fault,” she said. “Everybody needs to give a little bit.”
Protracted negotiations between employee unions and the district aren’t new. SEIU Local 1021, which represents district employees without teaching credentials, planned to strike last April but called it off days before. The teachers’ union went on a one-day strike in 2019, also over the district’s handling of staffing.
“What’s wrong with Sacramento?”
Kyle Petty, a former teacher who taught in Woodland Joint and Elk Grove school districts for 10 years, has one child in an SCUSD school. He told CapRadio in a Twitter message that “there is contentiousness and uncertainty every year.”
While he said he’s sympathetic to teachers’ arguments, Petty added that he struggles with the urgency of the strike.
“Post-COVID independent study has been a problem all school year,” he said. “Staffing has been a problem for year. No deal will resolve these issues overnight. I struggle to see how closing schools to negotiate provides a solution to the problems they cite.”
Cansuelo Chavez agrees: She wants to see schools open.
Chavez said while picking up food for her daughter at La Familia in South Sacramento that it’s been difficult this week to balance life.
“I work and it’s hard — I have to select babysitters and arrange everything,” she said. “They could open the schools for the kids, we’ve already lost a lot of time from COVID-19.”
Alicia Narayan has five kids in the district and said the meal distribution is “really, really helping and saves us a lot.” But balancing childcare and learning are still big concerns for her, and virtual schooling over the past two years has been tough on her sons.
“I'm a caretaker as well, so I have to stay home now and I have to kind of juggle things around with my clients because my kids are home,” she said. “I could leave them with the older ones. But then how are they going to learn?”
The district’s Academic Office has prepared resources for students to access through the student Clever Portal:
Dedra Amaro has been taking care of her five grandchildren — who attend Mark Twain Elementary — at her parents’ house. She said before the strike, she didn’t know teachers were underpaid.
She said she hopes the teachers get raises and benefits — “it’s been a long time coming for them,” she said.
“I know a school teacher from another county … and to hear them say ‘What’s wrong with Sacramento?’” she said, “That’s kind of an eye-opener.”
And Amaro hopes that the district can come to a compromise with teachers soon, not just for teachers and parents, grandparents and anyone who takes care of children, but because kids themselves are being affected by the strike.
“The kids are missing the school, missing going to class, missing their friends,” she said. “We miss our teachers, and it’s like, ‘What do you tell them?’”
As of Friday, no new talks between the SCTA and district have been scheduled.
Pauline Bartolone contributed reporting.
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