A student coalition called Youth Empowered in a Struggle (YES) is demanding a new Student Bill of Rights - a school handbook of expectations if you will. YES, a student arm of Voces de la Frontera, lists 43 specific demands that bear a strong unionist tone. For instance, they are demanding the rights of students to organize inter-school organizations with representatives that are to be included in "any decision-making that significantly affects the student body." Additionally, they demand collective bargaining rights for their teachers, smaller classroom sizes, and a desegregated education not to be undermined by privatization [choice schools]. Clearly, YES has high ambitions if they believe this can be accomplished.
YES also demands that schools not rely on police for matters that can be handled properly through mediation; they do not want to be searched or questioned by police without prior notification; they want the right to file complaints when police unfairly search or single them out; and they want schools, "to document the demographics of students who are reprimanded by police in school, suspended, or expelled, in order to track and protect against racial profiling."
Another interesting question is why Voces de la Frontera - an immigrant rights group - allies itself so closely with unions. Typically, most unions want nothing to do with immigrants, especially the undocumented sort. The reason is simple. In their negotiations, unions strive to increase worker wages; but the eagerness of undocumented immigrants to work for less threatens the stability of labor's membership. To many of them, undocumented immigrants aren't real people with families of their own. They are a problem for which deportation is an easy solution.
Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa put it succinctly when he said the inability of undocumented immigrants to organize creates a downward pressure on the wages of all workers. While union leadership like the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO advocate for the widespread legalization of 12 million undocumented immigrants, they realize that would take a lot of heavy lifting. Until then, the easy solution is deportation. The racist vitriol that emerges from union workshops is most certainly not a myth; it's a reality observed by many, myself included.
Some readers may ask why students have a right codify the collective bargaining rights of their teachers, the right to demand smaller classroom sizes, to access financial aid, to receive public transportation, or the right to have a bilingual education. Although I do not disagree with some of these demands, they require fiscal changes that affect taxpayers. It also raises an even more fundamental problem of showing the philosophical grounds to assert these rights.
The purpose of pre-college education, crudely put, is to teach kids how to think and what to know. The presumption is that they still need to be taught fundamentals or else their education wouldn't be mandated. If they lack the capacity of mature rationality or the knowledge of essential things, do they not also lack the tools to negotiate the terms of their own education? Should kids that haven't finished Drivers' Ed have the right to negotiate how their class should be taught or how traffic laws should be written? If not, why let them have the right to negotiate any terms pertinent to their own education?
YES needs to answer these questions before assuming they have the autonomy and competency to bargain collectively in their own schools.