As a kindergarten teacher of a struggling South Los Angeles public school largely consisting of Black and Hispanic foster kids, Martha Avila supported the week-long Los Angeles Unified School District strike in January.
The dispute was sparked by the lack of teacher assistants, nurses and therapists as well as the excessively high salaries of district executives. Avila was upset by the lack of input low income community members had on education.
“That’s where the gap is for me,” Avila said. “Who are these people in power that are rich, never been poor, but are making decisions for the poor people?”
Hosted by Associated Students Inc., Avila was one of a diverse panel of educators discussing public education issues during Tuesday’s Unpacking Inequality in Public Education event.
The panel spoke about how public education topics in the Greater Los Angeles area affect those who are economically disadvantaged.
Among other primary and secondary education topics discussed was the school-to-prison pipeline environment that exists within low-socioeconomic areas.
Frances Canales, the ASI senator for the College of Education, said she experiences this issue firsthand while working as a college advisor at Compton High School.
“I have my seniors coming in complaining about the circumstances they have to get an education in,” Canales said. “Having police on campus, getting talked to like they’re criminals even though they’re just trying to come to school.”
LBSU sociology assistant professor Esa Syeed described the situation.
“While this is happening in schools, it’s a reflection of criminalization and policing in communities of color in particular,” Syeed said.
LBSU sociology faculty member Eduardo Lara said the path to long-term social justice in public education starts with changes in communities first.
“The paradigm is upside-down,” Lara said. “It’s not the schools filtering into communities. It’s what can we do within the community so we can see those changes mirrored within the school.”
Lara also discerned the difference between equality and equity in the narratives for social justice. According to Lara, while equality is creating initiatives that force everyone to have the same resources, equity is designing policy and curriculums to communities based on their needs.
Senior community health education student Josh Hader attended the event to ask a question for his app, PeriDeals, which aims to address food insecurity among students once fully developed.
“What I saw was just passionate educators who altruistically are pursuing change,” Hader said. “It’s really just bunch of people that are interested in students that want to help students. That’s something I respect.”