Column: In L.A. Unified elementary schools, library books could be off-limits to many students

By Steve Lopez for the LA Times

Here we go again, tumbling down the shaft and into a bizarro world in which school libraries lock out students who need them most.

L.A. Unified elementary school libraries are on the chopping block once again, and library aides, many of whom could lose their jobs, are screaming for justice.

Some L.A. Unified board members, meanwhile, have made passionate pleas to keep the doors open.

“If you’re not reading by grade level by third grade, you’re going to struggle for the rest of your life,” said board member Scott Schmerelson, who has introduced a resolution calling for the district to come up with the necessary funding.

But just a few months after the L.A. Unified teachers’ strike drew strong public support for better pay and more resources for the struggling district, budget woes are forcing miserable choices that will hit students hard.

“An elementary school library is one of the more magical places in a child’s life,” said Meredith Kadlec, a second-grade parent who has been writing letters in the campaign to ward off cuts. “Imagination is born from books, and what about the kids who don’t get that enrichment at home? I feel like we’re going the wrong way in America when libraries are at risk.”

They’ve been at risk for years now in L.A. Unified. Many years ago, every school had a fully funded librarian. But as budget problems became more severe, teacher-librarians gave way to library aides, who then got laid off by the hundreds before being rehired. In the recent past, some libraries have been locked up despite the district having spent millions on new books. Typically, elementary school libraries are open only every other week as it is, and aides split their time between two schools.

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