Thousands of teachers who may go on strike against the nation's second-largest school district rally in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 15. Their union is locked in a contract dispute with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and teachers are threatening to strike for the first time in nearly 30 years. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

With the clock ticking on a strike by teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a federal judge rejected a bid by Superintendent Austin Beutner’s administration to limit or stop the labor action from happening as scheduled this Thursday.

Attorneys for the nation’s second-largest school district went to court Thursday, telling U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew that students with special needs would be denied education services that are guaranteed to them under U.S. law.

Lew swiftly rejected the argument, saying Friday that the district was attempting to bring an unrelated issue into the contract dispute and that it had failed to show how the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, would be liable if special education laws were not followed.

More than 30,000 teachers in Los Angeles are preparing to strike Thursday after more than 1½ years of unsuccessful contract talks with the district, with strike leaders meeting Saturday to make plans.

District officials said they have taken steps to keep schools open, including hiring hundreds of nonunion substitute teachers to fill in for educators walking picket lines. And they went to court.

United Teachers Los Angeles has demanded, among other things, a 6.5 percent pay raise; more money for schools; a boost in the number of counselors, nurses, social workers and librarians; a reduction in standardized testing; and an expansion of community schools.

The union has accused the district of claiming to have fewer resources than it really has, but Beutner’s administration says the district cannot afford many of the concessions and warns that the district could be insolvent in a few years.

A fact-finding panel tasked with trying to find a resolution to the contract impasse agreed with both sides on some points, saying that teachers deserve a raise but that the district can afford only the 6 percent being offered. A report written by the one neutral member of the panel said the district should dip into its reserves to cut class sizes and hire more nurses, counselors and other needed staff.

The union is also calling for a cap on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, but that was not part of its bargaining demands.

Lew’s order details a 1993 lawsuit against the district alleging that special education services to some students were being denied in violation of federal law, as well as a 1996 consent decree that settled the suit and a 1996 modified consent decree (MCD) entered into by all parties for the district to improve its special ed services.

District attorneys on Thursday asked the court to make the UTLA a third party in the consent decree, but Lew denied the attempt, writing in part:

Defendant is attempting, prematurely, to bring an unrelated party into a long-settled dispute without any explanation as to how UTLA would be legally liable to Defendant under the MCD or special education laws.

The Court acknowledges that a strike could burden Defendant in its ability to provide services to students, however even the original Plaintiffs, representatives of a class of disabled students, oppose bringing UTLA into this “long-settled lawsuit with a consent decree." ... The proposed Third-Party Complaint against UTLA is a new and independent claim that would inject facts and legal issues that have nothing to do with claims that were settled between Plaintiffs and Defendant over fifteen years ago. Defendant has failed to articulate its legal basis for its claims against UTLA, and the fact that Defendant’s claims would arise from a potential violation of the MCD is insufficient to implead UTLA into this case.