Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

Drinking A Charter School's Kool-Aid

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“As key partners of our school community, I wanted you to be aware of a pending new story and offer an explanation of the situation.  A reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News has approached El Camino Real Charter High School (ECRCHS) on multiple occasions. His focus: a request made by LAUSD last October to update our fiscal policies.”

- Dave Fehte, May 2016


El Camino Real Charter High School (ECRCHS) did not wait for the Daily News to release their first article about their investigation into the school to start employing a familiar defensive strategy. In a letter to parents at the beginning of May, Executive Director Dave Fehte stated that “because of the nature of the reporter’s questions, and his lack of interest in anything positive about the school, we believe this article is being crafted in a way that will put ECRCHS in a negative light”, as if the reporter has a responsibility to balance bad news with unrelated positive stories. I have encountered the same type of response in reaction to my investigations into Granada Hills Charter High School. Instead of countering the facts that I presented, I was attacked for having “an underlying agenda against” the school by a person who did “not appreciate [my] consistent negative spin.” Another suggested that I “criticize [when] criticism is due, but an occasional accolade might also be in order.” Left unexplained is why I was supposed to act as the school’s public relations agent.

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Putting Lipstick on the Prop 39 Pig

This article originally appeared on K12 News Network's The Wire.

On June 21, 2016, the LAUSD School Board debated a resolution co-sponsored by Ref Rodriguez and Monica Garcia that would establish an “impartial group of District and charter school leaders” to make recommendations on improving “the process around successful co-locations”. Under the Improving the Policies and Practices Impacting Co-Located Public Schools resolution, the Superintendent would be required to consider these recommendations “for implementation in the Fall of 2016”. The following is a copy of my comments to the Board before they began debate:


I’ve never heard a parent say “gee, I really hope that a charter co-locates at our campus next year.” Usually when a parent finds out that there is going to be a charter looking at that campus, they look at it like a parasite is looking to move into a host. They are concerned that it is going to divide their school community. They are concerned about overcrowding. They are concerned that it is just going to ruin the feel of a neighborhood school. Yet this resolution says: “Proposition 39 presents an opportunity for charter schools and traditional District schools to collaborate by sharing resources that benefit all public school students.

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Spiking the Pension?

Pension spiking, sometimes referred to as "salary spiking", is the process whereby public sector employees grant themselves large raises or otherwise artificially inflate their compensation in the years immediately preceding retirement in order to receive larger pensions than they otherwise would be entitled to receive. This inflates the pension payments to the retirees and, upon retirement of the "spikee", transfers the burden of making payments from the employee's employer to a public pension fund. This practice is considered a significant contributor to the high cost of public sector pensions.

- Wikipedia

In March 2015, then LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines met with parents and educators to discuss their concerns about LAUSD’s special education programs. During this meeting, Cortines announced that the District’s head of Special Education, Sharyn Howell would be retiring. After the room erupted into applause, Cortines admonished the attendees for what he considered their rudeness. It seemed strange to me at the time that he was surprised by this expression of joy as it had already been made clear how the District’s leadership had lost the confidence of this group. Howell had steam-rolled over their concerns to implement changes, including moving towards the closure of special education centers, which those in the room felt harmed the most vulnerable students in the District.

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Monica Garcia Votes to Continue Court Fight with Parents of Children with Special Needs

Last month, the 9th Circuit overruled a lower court and stated that parents did have the right to intervene on behalf of their children as they fight to keep special education centers as a choice available to them during the IEP process. While the LAUSD’s lawyers had reportedly already filed the paperwork, the Governing Board of the District was not set to vote on the action until yesterday’s meeting. As with any discussion involving litigation, the state’s open meeting laws allow the Board to meet behind closed doors before voting on this issue, but not before hearing public comment. At the 8:00 AM meeting, parents and other supporters of special education centers filled up the seven allotted speaking spots. I, along with other  speakers, spilled over into the public comment portion of the meeting. The following is a transcript of my remarks:


My name is Carl Petersen and I am the father of two daughters who are on the autism spectrum. I am here to speak on behalf of the special education centers.

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The LAUSD Empire Strikes Back

The district court further erred when it found intervention unnecessary to protect appellant's’ interest in ensuring the receipt of public education consistent with their disabilities and federal law.”

- Judge Carlos T. Bea

The LAUSD claims that “special education centers are unnecessary because the District can ‘provide all supports and services...at a general education site”, but there are parents of severely disabled students who disagree with this assessment, especially when “their children began coming home after school with bruises and other injuries” after their children were transferred away from special education centers. The mainstream environment also failed a student who is on the autism spectrum and was “found ‘walking alone a mile from the school’ due to understaffing in [his] classroom and the lack of special safety features at [his] new general education campus”. The Independent Monitor who oversees the District’s compliance with the 20 year old special education consent decree found that general education campuses had “areas designated for ‘[diaper changing, feeding and health care protocols’ [that] ‘were located inside classrooms that lacked running water and drainage’; [that] special education classrooms were placed ‘over 350 feet’ from bathrooms scheduled to be renovated to accommodate disabled children [and] the placement of bus drop-offs and lunch areas required blind children ‘to navigate slopes, uneven steps, tripping hazards and protruding objects’ to get to class”. Still, the District continues to fight parents in court so that they can forcibly transfer moderately to severely disabled students away from specially designed school environments and instead mainstream them in general education facilities.

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A Charter With Its Hand in the Cookie Jar?

It was discussed how and why Granada is running in the red

- El Camino Real Charter High School Board Meeting Minutes, September 18, 2013

Under California law, Associated Student Body (ASB) organizations are “student organizations that are established to raise and spend money on behalf of students”. Under the law, these funds are “to be used to finance activities for noninstructional periods”. These include “goods and services that promote the students’ general welfare, morale and educational experiences”, but not for “those which the school entity should provide from its own funding sources.” These funds may also be loaned “to any student body organization established in another school of the district for a period not to exceed three years” or to “invest in permanent improvements to any school district property”. When investing in a district property, the ASB is entitled to receive any rental income from that property until their investment plus a reasonable amount of interest is paid back.

In response to a Public Records Act Request that requested “bank statements for accounts that hold any of the funds belonging to the Associated Student Body (ASB)” at Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS), I was provided with documentation that shows the school’s ASB held $781,672.60 at the beginning of 2012. This amount raised a red flag as these funds were held in a single account at the California Credit Union, which is insured by the National Credit Union Association. However, this insurance only covers “up to $250,000”. Therefore, $531,672.60 of the students’ money was left unprotected despite the fact that the California Education Code Section 48933 states that if these funds are deposited in a bank, it must be one “whose accounts are federally insured.”

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Education Should be Based on our Children's Needs

On May 11, 2016, the Office of the Independent Monitor held public hearings and “parents of children with IEPs [Individual Education Plan] and all other members of the LAUSD community [were] invited to provide comments to Dr. David Rostetter”. The following is a copy of my testimony before Dr. Rostetter’s office:

Two of my triplets are on the autism spectrum. One goes to Kennedy High School, which is an LAUSD school, and the other one goes to Tobinworld. The daughter I am going to speak about is the one who goes to Tobinworld, which is a non-public school that has a contract with the LAUSD and the LAUSD runs her IEP. Therefore, her IEP is with the LAUSD’s Special Education department.

On her last IEP, which is her three year IEP, goals for after she leaves school were discussed. The document indicated that she is going to live with us. We objected to that goal as we want our child to be as independent as possible. The response from person conducting the IEP was “well, we asked your student.” The staff of the school tried to correct him but he ignored what they said and doubled down. “That is what your daughter wants.” My daughter is nonverbal and has trouble expressing what she wants for dinner, never mind what her life goals are. This showed just how little this administrator knew or cared about my child.

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The PARCC Test: Exposed

Editor's Note: In reviewing correspondence between Granada Hills Charter High School and the California Charter School Association, I learned that there is an effort to bring the PARCC Test to charter school students within the state. The following is a blog that critiques this test but has, unfortunately, been subjected to censorship on other sites:

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

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#?@$ Chi Minh

Screenshot_2016-04-24_at_10.12.49_AM.pngAs a child the first thing I did when presented with a new dictionary was check for the swear words. I already knew what they meant, but their presence validated the authenticity of the reference; if I could be trusted to know that these words existed, then surely the rest of the contents were worth exploring. Unfortunately, my daughter accidentally found this weekend that her school does not have that same trust in her.

While answering questions for her history assignment my daughter found that her text book did not provide her with the information that she needed for Ho Chi Minh and turned to the web for additional assistance. Using her school issued Chromebook she typed in the name of the former President of North Vietnam into Google. Unfortunately, instead of relevant information she was informed that the search results had been blocked.

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Low Expectations and the Oversight of Charter Schools

“With respect to the reimbursement of any cap and gown fees charged previously, 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 Schools Division

Month after month, the LAUSD School Board hears from a seemingly endless parade of charter organizations seeking authorization or re-authorization from the District. Even though each one of these approvals will drain students from the public schools run by the Board and reduce funding for the District’s students, most are placed on the consent calendar and voted on without discussion. With very few exceptions, they simply rubber stamp the recommendation of the Charter Schools Division (CSD). Unfortunately, my personal experience with the bureaucrats at the CSD has shown that they have little interest in making sure that charters are conforming to the California Education Code.

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