Founder of Women of Watts and Beyond (WOW), Lydia Friend, wants to get the children in her Los Angeles neighborhood back to school in person. Now a grandmother, Friend is a long-time resident of Watts, which is a primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhood. Friend originally became a community activist when she realized that the lives of children in her community were being destroyed by violence.
She founded the Women of Watts and Beyond Foundation, and is dedicated to her mission of "strengthening and building the family structure, mentoring and supporting families through raising awareness as a community to end violence." The organization is well known for its yearly "Stop the Violence March" in Watts.
WOW provides many services to the community. Among those services are; provision of hot breakfasts in schools, assistance with housing and shelter for individuals and families, and work with recovery homes to "assist individuals who are ready to make changes in their lives."
The pandemic and its accompanying school shutdowns have been devastating for the children in her community. Friend has been featured twice in March on War Room Pandemic in episodes 805 and 840. She is also the subject of a video series that is part of a website called Let's Roll America, conceived by TV news writer and producer, John Spiropoulos. Spiropoulous explores and exposes "the catastrophic impact of State and Local edicts that shutdown everyday life in America...the video reports are about the small business owners and their employees. It's about people, not statistics." His other videos featuring Women of Watts can be found here, here, and here. Friend explains what has transpired in Watts for school kids in the Let's Roll America Video below:
Friend is disappointed in the unions, teachers, and politicians alike. “They say the issue is safety, I say the issue is politics,” said Friend. “They’re just used to getting a paycheck and staying at home.” She believes that the teachers of Watts are "[pushing] these kids along, and when they get out into the real world, they don't know nothin', why because [they] didn't teach it like [they] was supposed to, they used our tax dollars and did what [they] wanted to do with it."
The reaction by politicians and schools seems to have made a bad situation worse, according to Friend. "Our children are suffering. The teachers don't want to go to class. They say that it's not safe," explained Friend. She adds, however, that the housing projects there are bordered on each side by schools. After their Zoom school classes, the children are outside playing. They are using safety as an excuse for removing in-person learning when in fact "the children are already playing together outside," she added. "The teachers need to step up," she added.
LA Unified School District (LAUSD) has been closed to in-person learning since March 13, 2020. It is the second-largest school district in the country. Many of the school districts around Watts have already returned to in-person learning. However, the LAUSD has not.
LAUSD has said it will reopen its schools in mid-April, however according to FoxNews, "the agreement would include daily in-person learning for elementary school students but still relies heavily on online instruction for older students.. Middle and high school students would learn in the classroom two days a week but from home on other days. The students would stay in the same room all day rather than moving between periods and would distance learn from various teachers while sitting in the same classroom, according to the Times. Families would also be allowed to keep their children in distance learning at home." Additionally, elementary children would only attend half-day.
Friend is upset about LAUSD's plans for the fall. The district informed parents that, in the fall, classes will resume with only three days a week in-person and with only half of the children allowed to attend in person at a time. She believes students should be in school five days a week and has hired a prominent lawyer in San Diego to sue the district to achieve that goal.
Friend is not the first to sue a school district in California. A group of parents sued the San Diego Unified District in mid-March because it violated SB 98 signed by Newsom last June, "because it has not offered in-person learning for the vast majority of its students." The parents were outraged because the Biden administration had asked teachers in the district to provide in-person learning at the San Diego Convention Center for migrant children when their own children were relegated to virtual learning.
In addition, a separate lawsuit that highlights the harm to children that Friend is concerned about, was filed by the Freedom Foundation on Mar. 30th. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit think and action tank with offices in Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. All of their work is pro-bono and is 100-percent funded by individuals who support their mission "to reverse the stranglehold government unions have on our state and local policymaking."
The complaint was filed "in Los Angeles County Superior Court by four sets of parents represented by the Freedom Foundation, a national public policy watchdog organization specializing in government union abuses," according to a press release by the Freedom Foundation.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in California because it contends that the students in the district have been materially injured by the closure of schools:
"Since Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools closed more
than a year ago due to concerns over the then unknown COVID-19, Plaintiffs’
children have variously become suicidal, isolated, depressed, addicted, clinically
obese, and had their future prosperity needlessly imperiled. While the need to
shutdown schools was unclear in March 2020, the scientific consensus is now
indisputable: schools can and should safely re-open. Keeping schools closed not
only harms childrens’ academic performance but has also been shown to cause ongoing and in some cases devastating harm to their social, mental, and emotional
UncoverDC spoke with the attorney for the case, Timothy Snowball, on Wednesday. He said that the teacher's union is an "unelected body" that wields enormous power in decisions made by the district. Every time officials tried to negotiate in earnest with the union, the union made demands that had little to do with the well-being of the students. He reported that they have long exerted "obstructionist tactics based on their political agenda" and those tactics have only become more forceful with the pandemic.
"There is no oversight. They are not elected officials...and by the way, Freedom Foundation is not anti-union as some would have you believe. We have been relentlessly attacked for seeking to protect the interests of these kids by the union and others. There is ongoing injury every day the schools are closed. If UTLA wants to advocate for its members on the basis of social justice issues, fine. But the cost of that can't be the ongoing harm to kids. It is inherently unjust. Everyday parents do not have the means, time, or ability to fight a teacher's union like UTLA. UTLA is sacrificing the well-being of these children and milking a crisis for everything it's worth. The sad thing is that the parents in the suit are so intimidated by the teacher's union that they were not willing to include their full names in the complaint. What is the point of our justice system or a court of law if individuals cannot avail themselves of their legal right to push back?"
Snowball wrote a scathing commentary on the actions of the LAUSD and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) for the California Globe on Mar. 31. He contends that the district and teacher union capitalized on the pandemic to raise a set of demands in July that had nothing "to do with student or teacher safety." In its initial demands, the UTLA released “10 Common Good Community Demands,” which included 15 additional paid sick days for all Los Angeles County workers, a weekly disaster stipend and creation of a food supply network." Below is July's revised list of demands for allowing teachers to return to school per Snowball's article:
Screen Capture/Timothy Snowball Article Mar. 31
In the War Room podcast 840 on March 30, Friend updated the audience on the status of the children in her neighborhood. She describes the realities of the virtual classrooms that have been a disaster for kids and families.“It’s horrible,” she said. “The babies aren’t even sitting 10 to 15 minutes, let alone 30 minutes” during virtual classes. She recounts the story of a mother who told her that her daughter, who was once a straight-A student, is now failing in school. Friend sees parents who are having enormous trouble juggling the demands of a job and dealing with their children learning from home.
"You see the teenager in high school trying to focus on the elementary school [child] and she's getting behind because she's taking care of the little brother or little sister to help them stay focused. So she's missing out on what she should be doin' in her class...The politicians do the same thing that parents do when they have a baby—pacify us. But I'm not goin' for it. We are just gonna fight 'til we get just what we are supposed to get."
A Facebook post on March 29 on the Women of Watts and Beyond page articulates her latest mission well:
Screen Capture/Women of Watts and Beyond Facebook Page
Friend is a woman of faith who believes things will work out in time with God's help. She hopes people will contact her organization to offer support. In the meantime, she told Bannon, "I took it to the Master and he's workin' it out. And I believe that God's gonna do it in his timing. We have to have faith and believe that the God that we serve is regulating hearts and minds. And that's my belief and whatever God's will is, it will be done."