This article was originally published on K12 News Network's The Wire
Executive Director Brian Bauer’s response to my inquiry fit a pattern that has become distressingly familiar. During my inspection of documents requested under the California Public Records Act, Bauer’s assistant had told me that, under Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) policy, I was not allowed to take pictures of the documents and that only the school could make copies for me. Believing that this did not comply with the Act, I had sent Bauer an email asking if this was actually the school’s policy and, if it was, on what basis had it been decided. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with a problem that should have been easily resolved, Bauer ignored the question and simply pointed out “that GHCHS provided copies of the documents requested free of charge by waiving the duplication costs.” Implied in his response was a belief that by making an exception to the policy he did not have resolve the flaws that existed with this policy. As a result, the school is free to attempt to break the law when the next stakeholder requests information.
Just a day earlier, my wife and I had met with Julia Howelman, who introduced herself as the Director of Counseling and Special Education, in an attempt to get the school to comply with our daughter’s doctor’s directions that excused her from physical education. Bauer had refused to meet with us directly about the subject, but had set up the meeting with Ms. Howelman, who he said was the school’s Director of Nursing but the GHCHS web site describes her as the “Administrator Director [of] Instruction”. During this meeting Ms. Howelman told us that she had confirmed with the school’s legal advisors that the school had no obligation to include parents in meetings with their children or to even notify them that these meetings had taken place. However, as a favor to us, they would make an exception and place a note in our daughter’s file that in her case we would be notified. In taking this action the school had reserved the right to violate the parental rights of those who are unaware of their policies while attempting to pacify parents who were complaining.
In October, I informed the school’s Testing Coordinator that the “GHCHS Board Policy [stating that] all students must participate fully in California CAASPP and Granada Testing in their 9th, 10th and 11th grade year to be eligible to participate in optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics” violated the California law that permits parents to have their children opt-out of these tests. He insisted that the school’s legal team had said that these prohibitions complied with the law but that exceptions could be made on a case by case basis. True to his word, we have opted our daughter out of these tests but she is still allowed to participate in after school activities. However, the policy is still included in the Parent-Student Handbook threatening those parents who disagree with standardized testing but are not fully aware of their rights under the law.
When I asked the school why they were charging their 2015 graduation class up $60 to purchase a cap and gown when the California Department of Education clearly stated in 2013 that “a district may not require students to purchase a cap and gown as a condition of participating in the graduation ceremony”, they immediately provided me with a refund on the money that I had paid. However, they refused to inform other parents that they had a right to get their money back and continued to post on their web site that “all students who participate in the ceremony must wear a cap and gown [and that] after January 31, 2015 caps and gowns are $60.00 (CASH ONLY)”. Once again, they had greased the squeaky wheel without fixing the underlying problem.
If my goal was to simply make things right for only my children, these exceptions may have worked. However, I believe that GHCHS’ failure to follow the rules that all publicly funded schools are supposed to follow not only hurts the students that attend the school, it hurts all 640,000 in the district. The charter school industry’s business model is based on poaching students from the public schools by claiming that they provide a superior education. If public schools are following the laws while the charters ignore them, then parents are not able to make an apples to apples comparison. The LAUSD spent a considerable amount of money complying with the cap and gown law while GHCHS profited from an illegal fee. Public schools test results do not include students whose highly involved parents have excluded them from these tests while GHCHS breaks the rules to force these students into taking these tests. Parents are not fully informed that by enrolling their children in GHCHS they are expected to give up their parental rights to participate in their children’s education. Therefore, I continue to fight for these policies to be changed even after I have secured protections for my child.