Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

Life is Short. Investigate Wisely.

...investigations should be completed in a timely matter, nothing and I mean nothing, will stand in the way of making sure our students and school communities are safe."

-Ramon Cortines, LAUSD Superintendent

The fifth grade students of Hobart Elementary School have started the school year without award winning teacher Rafe Esquith in the classroom. They are also deprived of access to his nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, and its proven record of allowing students to “move on to attend outstanding colleges.” Instead, Esquith continues to be confined to teacher jail as the five month investigation against him drags on. What started with a complaint about a joke told in the classroom has somehow expanded into “a complex investigation that requires painstaking, time-consuming work.”

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MiSiS Crisis II: The Educational Deprivations Continue?

Alameda County Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled that students ‘have suffered and continue to suffer severe and pervasive educational deprivations’ as the ‘direct result of Jefferson's failure to provide the students with appropriate course schedules.’"

-LA Times, October 8, 2014

As the students of the LAUSD approach their first day of school, district officials have sought to reassure the public that last year’s MiSiS Crisis will not be repeated. While admitting that “the $133.6-million computer program still isn’t fully functional” they told the Los Angeles Daily News in July “that placing students in the proper classes won’t be a problem this year.” Included in the steps being taken to ensure that the nation’s second largest school district will not be plunged into “MiSiS caused chaos” again was an assurance that they would “stop updating the system’s software for nearly a week before and after campuses open” on August 18.

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Still Stuck In Food Services Director Jail, David Binkle Retires

“I felt bad collecting my salary while being forced to sit home without doing the work.”

-David Binkle

Last December, David Binkle’s paid suspension was announced with typical LAUSD double speak. At the same time the press office was stating that he had “been temporarily reassigned pending the conclusion of an internal investigation into a CONFIDENTIAL personnel matter,” (emphasis mine) a leaked copy of the Inspector General’s draft audit stated that they “found that the program is currently at a minimum being mismanaged and at worst being consistently abused.” While the district initially stated that the investigation was likely to “wrap up in late spring or early summer,” last month they stated “they could not estimate when the investigation might be concluded.” In the meantime, Binkle was being paid his $152,000 salary not to work, a situation that was unfair to both Binkle and the taxpayers.

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The LAUSD's Red Herring

We also take seriously our obligation to ensure that our employees behave ethically.”

-LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines

With Rafe Esquith’s attorney once again drawing attention to unethical use of Teacher Jail, the district turned to the propaganda arm of the ed “reform” movement to turn the tide. Last Friday, the LA School report ran an article entitled “Most in LAUSD ‘jail’ facing charges of sexual misconduct, violence.” While the District will often refuse to tell effected teachers why they have been removed from the classroom, they were willing to give the LAUSD’s version of FOX News a “comprehensive breakdown of misconduct allegations being investigated by the district’s Student Safety Investigative Team.” Of the 174 employees caught in the purgatory of Teacher Jail, 65 were being investigated for sexual abuse or harassment and 55 were  in the system for accusations involving violence. The remaining 54 employees were accused of infractions that did not involve the direct safety of the students of the district.

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Once Again, the Children Will Lose

We need to be prudent and not dig ourselves back into a bigger deficit.”

-LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines

When good teachers are put in Teacher Jail, students lose. Without a coach, they lose ability to compete. Weeks before their AP test they lose valuable study time with an experienced instructor. As their teacher sits at home, they lose access to an award winning music program. With an extracurricular coordinator denied access to school grounds, they lose a popular talent show. They lose a chance to fall in love with the Shakespeare and the ability to take potentially life changing trips.

Teacher Jail is also draining scarce resources from the classroom.  The program is a financial black hole that pays teachers not to teach while also paying substitutes to take their place in the classroom. The district does not even let the two coordinate to reduce the harm done to the students and their education. Now facing a pending lawsuit against Teacher Jail, the students will lose again when money that would be better spent on education is spent to defend the viability and legality of Teacher Jail. The district has already hired an outside law firm to mount a defense. Instead of shutting down Teacher Jail, they are conducting a costly investigation (perhaps “witch hunt” is a better description) in an attempt to find anything that could justify their removing an award-winning teacher from the classroom. Meanwhile the LAUSD is laying off teachers, has staff to student ratios that are too high and school libraries that remain closed.

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Have the Bullies Met Their Match?

Exploiting justified anger...to pursue a war on teachers

-Diane Ravitch

Too often, a teacher in the LAUSD’s Teacher Jail system is doomed to a career ending sentence if they cannot generate the publicity that will force the district’s hand. When district bullies removed Greg Schiller from the classroom because of a science project that they did not understand, students protested and the media noticed. Schiller’s suspension was ended after two months, but not before the fencing team he coached was forced to cancel their participation in a competition and AP students were deprived of study time. After leading class trips to France and the White House, choir teacher Iris Stevenson was placed in Teacher Jail. “Parents, students and community members rallied” and she was released back to the classroom, but only after students missed her instruction for an entire semester. Stuart Lutz was returned to the classroom with his only discipline being a “‘conference memo’, in which an administrator explained what Lutz did incorrectly and how to avoid such problems in the future.” Lutz was also the beneficiary of pressure on the district, including an online petition,  from people who did not believe that improprieties in field trip paperwork and fundraisers are adequate reasons to remove an art teacher from the classroom for eight months.

Until last month it appeared that Rafe Esquith was headed down the same path. After being placed in teacher jail in March for “telling a joke about nudity in Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’” publicity was building about this teacher’s stay in purgatory. Several media outlets were covering the story and a well-attended protest was held before the School Board. He had also secured the services of a high powered law firm who “told the district to publicly apologize and let him return to work or be sued.”

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Diverting Attention

During the primary campaign, Ref Rodriguez’s supporters accused UTLA of “using ‘racial undertones’” because they used the candidate’s given name, Refugio, in a mailer. Fast forward five months and the new Board member himself referred to his full name several times in his swearing in ceremony on Tuesday. Nevermind what was said or done during the campaign, Rodriguez wants you to pay attention to the present and ignore the contradictions.

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Engaging Parents

You should not speak to any child, especially students not your own.”

-Derek Horowitz, LAUSD Principal


Now that Tamar Galatzan is a former member of the LAUSD School Board, there is not one Board Member who has children enrolled in the district. Granted, this change is only symbolic as Galatzan had a reputation for ignoring the concerns of other parents (there is a reason that three parents ran against her in the March primary) and focusing on the needs of the charter school advocates who financed her campaigns.  However, symbols are important and the new Board needs to take steps to show that it takes its goals of “parent and community engagement” seriously.

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Arrogance

 

Election season was clearly over on Tuesday afternoon as the LAUSD set about to fulfill the legal requirement of getting public input into the Local Control Funding Formula. Outgoing District 3 representative Tamar Galatzan did not even bother to show up to the meeting. District 2’s Monica Garcia left as public comment began. Even George McKenna’s seat was empty before the last speaker had a turn at the podium.

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Serving All Students

On Tuesday, the LAUSD Board will vote on reaffirming its commitment to “A-G Life Preparation for All.” Unfortunately, the title of this resolution is disingenuous as somehow, we have come to confuse “life preparation” with “preparation for college.” While I agree that any LAUSD student who wants access to college preparatory classes should be given the opportunity, we should not pretend that college is the only pathway to success. Any college graduate who is underemployed and struggling to pay off student debt will  certainly attest to the fact that college does not guarantee success. What the LAUSD really needs to do is recommit itself to serving all types of students

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