Jose Lara’s classroom is bright and empty on this Friday afternoon. Light falls through the large windows onto shiny desks. The room, shocked once again by the silence that follows a day’s learning, echoes the slightest sound for comfort.
Pasted on the far wall is a poster advertising “The Mexican Revolution of 1910″ with clay-colored drawings of imposingly mustached men. The class rules hang above it, requesting that students “be on time,” “respect one another” and “share food with Lara.” On the white board, the students have left a cartoon message for their teacher: two caricatures of Jose Lara, both wearing “UTLA” t-shirts. Above one are the words “Hunger Strike!!!” and a speech bubble saying, “Today I had a Lara fun!” Meanwhile, the second character says simply, “Me no eat.”
On May 26th, Lara and eight other teachers within the Los Angeles Unified School District began a hunger strike to protest teacher lay-offs and budget cuts within the district. Promising to live only on water for as long as his body can take it, Lara is part of the final push: the last ditch attempt to press the LAUSD to retract the “pink slips” that come into effect on June 30th.
“Everything we’ve done so far has fallen on deaf ears,” said Lara. “The children of Los Angeles did not create this economic crisis and yet they are being asked to pay for it. We think that’s an injustice.”
The impact of teacher lay-offs and increased class sizes across the city, according to Lara, will be immense. But lower income areas and communities of color will be hardest hit. At the Santee Education Complex in South Central, where Lara teaches, more than 50 teachers received termination notices and 6 are being displaced. “Next year, we’re going to have 113 teachers where we used to have 170,” said Lara. “We have the same amount of students we have to serve. That means there’s going to be less after school programs. [...] In my social studies class, I’m going to have to use every single chair and I might have to use some desks as chairs because that’s how many students are going to be inside my classroom.”