For 24 years, Peniana Arguelles worked as a special education assistant in Los Angeles public schools. At Menlo Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles, she feeds kids who can’t hold a fork, changes diapers, helps students pick paint colors, gives hugs when they cry.
Arguelles said she considers herself blessed and “loves her job and her students”. She is part of a body of specialist workers who do not have a teaching qualification but who serve as the teacher’s right hand when it comes to the needs of pupils, including the most vulnerable children with learning needs. learning and disabled children.
And as a member of Service Employees International Union Local 99 – which represents some 30,000 caretakers, food workers, gardeners, bus drivers and others – Arguellas is prepared to strike for three days as part of the a request for a 30% salary increase. Joining Local 99 in the strike will be members of the teachers’ union, a strike that would close schools, starting Tuesday.
Arguellas and other teaching assistants said their walkout was a matter of respect. They are among the lowest paid workers in the district. Aides who have worked with students with disabilities start at around $19 and can earn up to around $24 per hour. But they said their workload had become unsustainable.
Arguellas is especially irritated that the Los Angeles Unified School District is asking her to do more work outside of her classroom assignments — helping extra students with homework and leading calming exercises with them.
“It’s putting on two hats for the same pay,” she said. “It is not fair.”
Kyle Sanchez, 35, works at the Rosa Parks Learning Center in North Hills with 18 special education students in a fourth- and fifth-grade shared classroom. He said the class was “far too big” for him alone and that it entailed “too many off-clock hours”. He wants a higher salary, but also reduced class sizes and aid.
“We’ve reached the point where something needs to be done,” Sanchez said. “We need more staff, more money and a little respect.”
These teacher aides said the public does not understand the work their members do to keep schools running.
Francisco Magallanes, a special education assistant for 23 years at the Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy, said there are “many jobs” that special education assistants never get paid or recognized for.
This includes taking the bus to school with special education students starting at 7 a.m. and spending an additional 15-20 minutes at the end of school days escorting students past campus.
“There is a double duty that no one assigns to you,” Magallanes said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Magallanes was joined by his colleague from the Elizabeth Learning Center, Sergio Castro, 35, a special education teacher.
The “proud LAUSD product” and Roosevelt High School alumnus said the extra work for special education teachers and assistants is taken for granted.
Castro created an on-campus photography club specifically for students with special needs at the Elizabeth Learning Center which he says has created “opportunities for children to express themselves through photography.”
“It seems like ‘going beyond’ is expected,” Castro said. “We love our children and our school, but at the end of the day we need a living wage. We love LA, but we also need to be able to live here.
Denia Serrano, 33, and Juanita Zavaleta, 44, work at the Irving Steam Magnet School in Glassell Park.
Serrano served as a special education assistant in the district for eight years. This year, her job is to team up with a teacher to “discreetly” visit general education classes that include special education students.
Serrano said the goal was to “help each student as needed,” without embarrassing or singling them out.
It’s a job she’s “very proud of”, but in which she feels neglected and undervalued.
“I just can’t believe we’ve gotten to this point where we could strike because the district doesn’t want to pay us or respect us,” Serrano said. “It makes you feel like they don’t know you exist.”
Zavaleta is a braillist who transcribes English and works in a classroom with visually impaired children, helping new students acclimate to school and function with minimal prompting or navigation.
“When I look at this fight…it’s easy to say it’s about money, but it’s ultimately about respect,” Zavaleta said. “The superintendent makes $440,000 and we have people making $25,000. The fact that the district agrees with this is sad.