Former teacher from Los Angeles talks about conditions in schools and fights for the eradication of COVID-19
The World Socialist Web Site spoke to Juanita Garcia, a former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher and grandmother who has adopted four of her grandchildren: Samantha, 25; Chevy, 20; Felix, 18; and Caprice, 15. She works to help immigrant children and their families in her neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, a working class neighborhood served by LAUSD.
The San Fernando Valley has a significant population below the poverty line. According to 2020 data from the US Census Bureau, the San Fernando Valley and the city of San Fernando have the second highest and third highest poverty rates in the greater Los Angeles area, with over 14 percent of the population in poverty. In addition, 19 percent of children under the age of 12 are poor. The cost of living in the region is 45 percent higher than the national average, with housing costs 110 percent higher than the national average. Because of the high cost of living in the area, the average person is more likely to live in poverty than the average American.
San Fernando Valley is also the center of some of the major Hollywood studios, including Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, and DreamWorks Animation. In 2020, Warner Brothers had sales of over $ 30 billion, underscoring the massive inequality in the region.
Homelessness is also very high in the region. Of the estimated 66,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, 9,000 live in the San Fernando Valley. The already existing high levels of poverty, homelessness and cost of living have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Juanita described how she and her family have been affected by COVID-19. “I lost my sister to COVID. She was sent to UCLA Medical Center, the best hospital in LA. She had all of the symptoms and was intubated. She was only 46 years old when she died in March 2020.
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“Personally, I suffered from COVID last December. I was in the hospital for two weeks. Even after the vaccination, I got COVID. I was very, very tired. I am 70 years old and have been very energetic at home and at school. But my energy level really went down. I had body aches and pains, especially in my chest. Then I had to fight Medicare because they said it was all on my head. I am exhausted all the time and that worries me. My mouth feels awful and I haven’t tasted anything for a while. “
Since there was still one grandchild enrolled in LAUSD, Juanita also spoke out about the lack of support for her grandchild and many other students and families in the district. She noted that the pandemic has exacerbated the problems of students and educators.
Juanita said, “There is a lot of discrimination. Children and families in the Valley are mostly poor and immigrant, while other parts of the district are better off and treated differently. Both Felix and Caprice are special children. The anxiety attacks even occurred in Pre-K. They identified attention deficit disorder (ADD) behaviors and many emotional needs. Her mother had bad habits with drugs.
“Felix graduated from high school in May. His fears were expressed in severe stomach pain. The doctor examined him and thought it had something to do with his appendix, but it wasn’t. He’d feel bad in the classroom with the other kids. He was afraid to stay next to them.
Juanita’s grandson. (top left) Alexis Garcia, now 25; (top right) Samantha Flores-Garcia, now 25; (Center left) Chevy Garcia, now 20; (Center center) Victoria Garcia, granddaughter’s sister, 17; (Middle right) Felix Garcia, 18; (front row) Caprice Garcia, 15. Picture was taken in 2008, the year Juanita graduated from Cal State University Northridge with her teaching degree.
“Caprice suffers from the most severe anxiety attacks. I had to call an emergency IEP [Individualized Educational Program] To meet. He can’t go outside to play. He becomes so anxious that he cannot breathe. He will cry and start shaking. Once he was so nervous that he had an accident. They let the children go to school without masks. No wonder he’s scared. When I called the school, they were very angry with me.
“Last August, the district pushed for a face-to-face briefing. Because of Caprice’s condition, I applied for the City of Angels online teaching program which is a very poor program. There were no courses available. The person told me that there were already 16,000 children in the program, that they were not ready to cope with so many, and that Caprice would be on the waiting list. “
Juanita, herself a former senior teacher in LAUSD, also described how multiple workplace injuries and lack of support from the district and her union forced her to leave the district in 2008. She said, “I started working as an assistant in a classroom for LAUSD in 1982. I started teaching in 1986 in early childhood. In 2008, I received my teaching license from Cal State University Northridge. In the same year, after 26 years of teaching at LAUSD, two work accidents occurred in which I was seriously injured. You need to understand that when you work with these preschool kids, they really love and follow, talk and hug their teachers.
“In the first accident, a child was riding one of these metal tricycles at top speed and fell. I got up to help and tripped over the roots of a tree. I had to have an operation on my knee. In the second accident, a little girl ran to hug me and then another kid ran towards me on a tricycle, which caused me to fall and land on my right shoulder. It was dislocated, which required several operations. At first I couldn’t move it. It was a long time before I started moving again.
“In both cases, I had to fight the county for compensation and the union didn’t really help. I have been very active in the UTLA as a local member representative for Early Childhood, chairing committees. I have served on the CTA State Council and on the state and national NEA levels. Well my story ended with these accidents, and the UTLA never did anything for me. I’ve suffered all these years and I’ve lost everything.
“After that bitter experience 13 years ago, I decided to get on with my life. As grandparents and parents, I stand up for my children and all children and families here in the San Fernando Valley. You are an English learner. Ninety percent of the families here are from Latin America, and many are poor. Every now and then you get a good headmaster to work with the parents. I’m on ELAC [English Learners Advisory Committee] and School Site Council in my children’s schools.
Juanita with her grandchildren
“But these families have been badly hit. You don’t have insurance or legal papers. You can’t imagine how badly they were treated. They have been hit hard, and yet they also work, usually men and women, in low-paid factory jobs. Most of them are immigrants. You don’t have enough food, diapers; they need help with translation, need help with trips to different places. I used to volunteer to deliver food to The Lighthouse helping pregnant and runaway students.
“I don’t like how the district treats parents and children. You have a lot of specialists, a lot of employees, and you have the money. Ed’s board of directors has approved a huge $ 13 billion budget for this school year! That was 62 percent more than in the previous year. Why are they neglecting the students? You are supposed to anticipate what kind of problems will arise. I want to know what they’re doing with all that money.
“LAUSD is sitting on billions of dollars received from federal and state COVID programs. Billion dollars. With all that money, why couldn’t they use all of the months we were online to get everything set up right? They just want the kids to come to school. Money is the reason. Forget about the safety of children and families and teachers. “
After watching the “How to End the Pandemic” webinar recently hosted by the World Socialist Website, Juanita expressed her support for the global elimination strategy presented at the meeting.
“I was very impressed by the webinar. Why is the US government doing this? I believe in vaccinations. One of my grandchildren doesn’t believe in medicine. There are a lot of people like this who refuse to accept the science and get the vaccines. Didn’t they get their polio, measles, and smallpox vaccinations so they could send their children to school? Why is this recording different?
“We have to do everything we can to get rid of COVID-19. It is not just for my convenience but for all people. I liked what Dr. Jimenez said about aerosolization. He is absolutely right. You breathe it in. We need to create awareness about this science and how this virus is spreading.
“I really liked Lisa Diaz, the lady from Great Britain. She is very passionate about it.
“I also liked Dr. Baker. It was very serious and showed how the methods of elimination worked in New Zealand. But science has become a political weapon in the wrong hands.
“The only way to combat this is for everyone to obey the rules. It has to be all over the world. Now there are anti-mask demonstrations. There is a lot of confusion. “
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