This article was originally published on K12 News Network's The Wire
“No further action is being taken at this time.”
-Brian Bauer, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS)
“It is the expectation of the CSD that GHCHS will provide notice to all affected parents of students in the 2014-2015 graduating class regarding options for reimbursement or other remedy.”
-LAUSD Charter School Division
“Reasonable efforts to fully reimburse all pupils, parents and guardians who paid a pupil fee include but are not limited to crediting the pupil's school financial account and sending reimbursement by first class mail to the pupil's last known primary address as contained in school or local educational agency records.”
-California Education Code
This is a battle that did not need to be fought. While Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) claims that its “policy is to comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations”, the fees it charged for last year’s graduation ceremony violated the portion of the education code that states that “a pupil fee cannot be charged” for this ceremony because it is “an integral part of the educational process.” When confronted with their mistake, the school offered me a refund for some of these fees but refused to take corrective action on a school-wide basis. I elevated the complaint to “Executive Director”, Brian Bauer, who denied a violation had occurred but refused to answer any specific questions about his decision. Left with no other options, I filed a Uniform Complaint Procedure form with the school which should have initiated a formal, independent investigation. Instead, Bauer handled the investigation himself and found that there was no wrongdoing.
Under the complaint process outlined by the school, in a case that included allegations against the Executive Director, the Chair of the GHCHS Governing Board should have been assigned as the compliance officer. Unfortunately this was not the only deviation from the process. While "the compliance officer is encouraged to hold an investigative meeting within five (5) days of receiving the complaint or an unsuccessful attempt to mediate the complaint”, no meeting was held. Bauer has asserted in the past that he is the only person who “will determine who has a meeting with me”, but in this case the Governing Board who approved the rules has made the determination for him. This meeting was meant to allow the complainant “an opportunity to present the complaint and evidence or information leading to evidence to support the allegations in the complaint." Perhaps if he had not skipped this important step, Bauer would not have allowed himself to make several mistakes in his findings.
In addition to the Senior Information Sheet, dated August 20, 2014, that I cited in my complaint, Bauer admits that the school sent a letter, dated April 20, 2014, that stated “all students who participate in the ceremony must wear a cap and gown. After January 31, 2015, caps and gowns are $60.00 (CASH ONLY) and are only available at Senior Clearance on June 3, 2015.” This clearly violates the California Department of Education directive that “a cap and gown fee is not ‘otherwise allowed by law.’” However, Bauer concludes that since the school provided other documents to parents that did not include this language, “as a whole” the school made it clear that the fee was not required, even if up until January 1, 2016, the school’s web site only included information about the fee and did not provide any option for obtaining a loaner. Bauer goes on to say that an “email sent to all parents on June 2, 2015, addressed the possible misunderstanding related to caps and gowns for graduation.” (emphasis mine). This statement attempts to place the blame on the parents when any confusion was purposefully caused by the school which sent out information that conflicted with the education code. Incidentally, I do not remember receiving a copy of this email.
The second part of my complaint alleged that GHCHS’ practice of charging students $30 for graduation tickets above each family’s allotment of four violated the Los Angeles County Board of Education’s finding that “the practice of charging parents fees for graduation ceremonies creates a two-tiered system -- those who can afford to purchase additional seats and have a different educational experience vs. those who cannot.” Bauer admits that the school provided parents with a letter that stated “graduating seniors would receive four free guest tickets for the ceremony and additional tickets would be available for purchase on a first come first serve basis.” He tries to explain away this fact by stating that the tickets that were sold were for “anyone in the community who wishes to attend the ceremony.” He does not explain how anyone other than students was able to gain access to the student store to purchase a ticket or why anyone other than someone with a relationship to a student would want to pay $30 to attend the ceremony. These tickets were clearly for the use of students and those who could afford to pay the fee definitely were able to make different choices than those who could not.
The response to my charge that the formal complaint process was not followed followed the same attempt at logic. Mr. Bauer admits that, “on June 4, 2015, you sent me another email” that included further questions. However, he found that my “email did not require a further response.” Despite the fact that this letter stated that I had not received the form he had claimed was sent to all parents, he still found that it “did not present any new information”. He also states that I “did not file a Uniform Complaint at that time” but he had neglected to inform me that I had to do so nor did he provide me with a copy of the form needed to file this complaint.
As much as Mr. Bauer believes that he is the law, the rules that are in place are meant to ensure that he is held accountable to the public that pays his salary. The school’s rules clearly state that the Governing Board should have been the ones to investigate the complaint. The CSD has stated that it is their expectation “that GHCHS will provide notice to all affected parents of students in the 2014-2015 graduating class regarding options for reimbursement or other remedy.” California’s education code says that the illegally charged fees should be directly reimbursed to parents through first class mail.
Once again, I call on the LAUSD School Board to step up and hold accountable to the public the privately run schools that they have chartered. Through their response to my UCP form, GHCHS has proven that they are unwilling to follow their charter or the ed code. The LAUSD Board needs to inform GHCHS that if this does not change, their charter will be revoked for “material violations of the charter” and “violations of the law.” Anything less is a sign of the Board’s failure at oversight.