Free but Bored, Students Head for Beaches, Malls

Times Education Writer

Guillermo Munoz ditched class at Venice High School and headed for the beach. Tom Guth hung out with friends at Dale’s Junior Market in North Hollywood. And Colin Otsap hunkered down at his Westchester home with a video game to sharpen his “fine motor skills.”

That’s how three of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 590,000 students spent the first day of the teachers’ strike Monday as most schools struggled to get by with skeleton staffs of administrators, parent volunteers and substitutes.

For many students who stayed on campus, the day was lost to games, movies and long recesses. For the thousands who left school--or who never went at all--it was a day of mall-cruising, beach-bumming or kicking back at home. Emotions ranged from boredom to disgust to giddiness over their liberation from school routines.


At many elementary schools, students were fairly orderly but restless. But at other schools--particularly junior highs--the scene was described as utter chaos.

Said eighth-grader Tom Guth just before he skipped classes for the day at at Walter Reed Junior High in North Hollywood: “We just sat there (in the auditorium). Then we started talking. Then somebody started throwing papers and everybody was throwing papers at the subs and yelling. It was complete havoc. There were about 10 teachers for 600 kids. Then everybody started ditching.”

Reed Principal Charles Stewart said he actually had 14 teachers on duty Monday--and 1,500 students, about a third of whom were gone by mid-morning.

At Palisades High School, a stream of students headed down Temescal Canyon Drive toward the ocean. “Too boring” is how one Palisades High student described the situation as he joined the procession to the beach, where he planned to stay until 3 p.m. Then he would “take the bus back to South Gate,” he said. Palisades High, like many district schools, enrolls students from distant neighborhoods where campuses are too crowded.

Palisades sophomore Dominic Walker said he was going to stay in school. “You got to get an education first,” he said. And besides, he reasoned, “it’s too cloudy” for the beach.

At Bell High School, the administration locked doors and gates to discourage truants, but most students were gone by early afternoon anyway. “It seemed like a prison. We couldn’t even go out for lunch,” said Zoraya Perez, 15.


“All our administrators were in a bad mood,” said another Bell High student, Claudia Rodriguez. “It’s not our fault they’re on strike. And then they didn’t give us anything to do.”

In Venice, some students wanted to go home but had to wait for district buses because they lived too far away. Guillermo Munoz, 15, for instance, lives in South Gate but attends the foreign language magnet program at Venice High School.

“We had two choices,” he said. “The principal came on the (public address system) and told us we could stay or we could go home. We decided to take the third choice, and so we went to the beach. We swung on the swings, played volleyball, and then it started to rain so we decided to come back (to school).

“Tomorrow,” he said, “we plan to bring some money and have some fun.”

Heading for the Malls

With his mother’s blessings, Colin Otsap, 13, stayed away from classes at Palms Junior High School’s gifted magnet program. “He increased his fine motor skills with video games,” Sherry Otsap said.

“Then we went to the (Fox Hills) mall,” Colin said, “and we ate lunch and played more video games” with his friend, Charles Comparato, 14.

Meanwhile, at South Gate High School, where two-thirds of the 94-member faculty honored the strike, only half of the students--about 1,200--came to school. And by early afternoon, only a third of those were left, a school official said.


Some of those who ditched classes spent part of the morning watching their teachers at a union rally in a nearby park. Standing on a park bench, they argued over the merits of the striking teachers’ action.

“I think it’s stupid,” said Belinda Ortiz, 16. “If they want to go into teaching, they should have done it for the joy of teaching, not the money.”

“But don’t they have to pay their bills?” countered Manuel Mednia, 17. “They’re just asking to earn a decent living. I think we should support them.”

Some students who felt sympathetic toward their striking teachers decided the best revenge was not to ditch but to do just the opposite.

“I’ll go to school to support the teachers because when I’m in class they’ll have one more kid to worry about,” said Kambiz Ghaneabassiri, an 11th-grader at Wilson Medical Magnet High School in East Los Angeles.

At Castelar Street Elementary School in Chinatown, fifth- and sixth-graders filed into the multipurpose room, took seats on the floor, and watched educational films--”The Fable,” “Navajo Girl,” and “Where’s My Little Lame Stray.” They appeared to enjoy the mini-film fest, shouting approval whenever a blond character showed up on the screen with Marcel Marceau, the star of “The Fable.”


One Castelar student, a pixieish second-grader in pigtails, threw up her hands in wonderment when she was asked what a strike was. In another building, a group of fourth-graders from Room 29 seemed better informed.

“They want an hour away from children to correct papers,” said 10-year-old Lamy Huynh. “I read the (picket) sign. It says ‘We Deserve Better.’ ”

“It means teachers don’t have enough pay,” said 11-year-old Zauo Xing Guan.

Others appeared interested in knowing the bottom line.

“Will we flunk?” asked a wide-eyed Dina Chan, 10. “If there are no substitutes, we’ll go anywhere we want and we won’t learn enough stuff.”

Then Lamy said she was “relieved” that her teacher decided not to strike. “If we got a substitute, she will be mean. Substitutes yell at us.”

The mood at Pacific Palisades Elementary School was festive. Students seemed excited about something different happening, although many didn’t seem to understand what was going on.

But even if they didn’t fully comprehend the issues at stake, they understood the possible consequences.


“It’ll be hard to learn because everyone is fooling around,” said Andrea Newman, 10, a Palisades fifth-grader who didn’t want to go to school Monday but went because “my mom made me come.”

Some students were downright indignant.

When told that her teacher--who had recently returned from a lengthy disability leave--was not coming Monday, a first-grader at Pacific Palisades Elementary School proclaimed in mock anger, “This has gone too far!” then broke into laughter.

Nearly everyone who went to school seemed to have an opinion about the strike.

“I don’t like it,” said Crystle Cala, a first-grader at Carpenter Avenue School in Studio City, “because I want my real teacher.”