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Burbank teachers union advises members to lock their classrooms during lunch period

Burbank teachers union advises members to lock their classrooms during lunch period
The Burbank Teachers Assn. has instructed faculty members to lock their doors during lunch hours as a way to leverage a better contract with Burbank Unified School District. (Photo courtesy of Ernie McGinnis)

The Burbank Teachers Assn. has implemented a new tactic with the hopes of getting Burbank Unified to offer the union a better contract, but at least one teacher says students are paying the price.

Since Wednesday, union members have been told to lock their doors during lunch period and not provide help to students during that time. At Burbank and John Burroughs high schools, teachers have posted signs on their doors that read, "LUNCH LOCKOUT," and below it the hashtag #LunchLockoutBUSD. It also states that local school board members should be contacted if there are any questions.

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Diana Abasta, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn., said teachers have the right to a duty-free lunch period and are not obligated to provide additional help to students during lunch.

She added that many teachers are frustrated with school officials and the compensation teachers are receiving for the work they are doing.

"Teachers are doing all that they are required to do," Abasta said. "For the last 10 years or so, we have constantly been [saying] that teachers need to be thought of as a cost of running a school. … Teachers are saying that we cannot continue to do things without being fairly compensated."

The classroom closures during lunch also force students to find new venues in which to hold their club meetings.

Abasta, an English teacher at Burbank High and a club advisor at the school, said she has confidence students will be able to find different meeting locations for their clubs, adding that students can also form their own study groups after school.

"This lockout is about putting out the message that teachers really do more than they're required to do, and they deserve to be fairly compensated," she said.

Supt. Matt Hill said in a statement that the district has been in negotiations with the teachers association and that the decision to have lockouts may be due to how the negotiations have been going so far.

"Our teachers are facing unprecedented challenges, and we are doing all that we can to explore new efforts to get much-needed financial relief to our employees," Hill said. "At this time, we are exploring options to raise revenues locally as it appears that the resources offered to us by the state are unable to support the needs of the high-quality educators and staff in our schools."

Hill added: "We realize that this is creating a stressful situation for our students, and we will be opening the auditorium at lunch staffed with administrators to provide additional spaces for our students to go during lunch."

The lunchtime lockout has not sat well with Ernie McGinnis, a social studies teacher at Burbank High and a member of the association. Though he is a union member, McGinnis said he is not an active member and was unaware of the bargaining tactic that his colleagues were undertaking.

He learned about the lockout on Wednesday, when he usually oversees a school club during lunch. He noticed students who weren't club members entering his classroom, and he was told by those students that teachers were locking their doors.

Since then, McGinnis has opened his classroom to any student who needs a place to go to during lunch, much to the dismay of some of his colleagues, he said.

"[The signs] were on 91 out of the 100 doors in the school," McGinnis said. "I understand that unions during negotiations play a little hardball and that's just the nature of the game, but the thing that got me is that they're using kids."

Access to the classrooms, McGinnis said, is more important to some students than others. He has one student who has high-functioning autism with severe social anxiety who needs to be in a classroom during lunch to feel safe.

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He has another set of students, a group of English-language learners, who use their lunch period to try and keep up with their other classes.

"These students are being locked out at the behest of our union," McGinnis said. "They're being used as political pawns to bend the district to the will of the union."

McGinnis added that he fears the Burbank Teachers Assn. might take its tactics to another level, saying that he has heard about teachers asking students to have a walkout during school hours.

Abasta said she has not heard anything about a student walkout nor the union organizing one.

In either case, McGinnis said he thinks there are better ways to send messages to the district, such as wearing pins and attending school board meetings frequently. He said locking students out of classrooms at any point is wrong.

"This feels worse than a strike," he said. "With a strike, teachers will just walk out of the whole school, but with this, it's absolutely targeting students. This is a punishment that students are feeling. The district doesn't feel it, and the school board doesn't feel it. It's the students right now who are paying the high price, and it's disgusting."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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