Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.
By Carl J. Petersen
I sent the following letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times in response to the charter industry's op-ed diminishing the charges against Ref Rodriguez. It was not published.
If we are to believe Peter Cunningham’s September 21, Op-Ed, Ref Rodriguez’s alleged violations of the law should be ignored because they are a result of a “rookie mistake”. This reasoning ignores the fact that the defendant was employed by PUC charter schools as a treasurer, with a responsibility to understand financial rules. He was also asked by KPCC radio in 2015, about the actions that are now detailed in the felony complaint and denied that the donors were being reimbursed. This is a case of deception, not of ignorance.
Contrary to Cunningham’s assertion, perjury and money laundering are not “crime[s] with no victim”. The actions described deprived “the public of information about the true source of a candidate’s financial support” making every voter a victim. Furthermore, it demonstrates the character of a man who is supposed to set an example for the 640,000 children of the District.
- Attorney Mark Werksman
According to the Felony Complaint against Refugio (Ref) Rodriguez, he and his cousin allegedly conspired in a scheme that hid the source of almost $25,000 in campaign donations from the public. While a lawyer involved in the case maintains that this is “a small amount of money”, the amount donated by each of the listed donors has raised suspicion since the time of the original filing. As noted by KPCC in an article dated February 5, 2015, “Rodriguez collected $21,000 in campaign donations from employees of his charter school network, Partnerships to Uplift Communities” including “a handful of his workers – a janitor, maintenance worker, tutor — [who] are donating at or near the contribution limit, $1,100.” Rodriguez insisted at the time that “the employee contributions weren't coerced and will not be reimbursed”, but the District Attorney charged both the Board member and his cousin with “25 counts of ‘assumed name contribution’” for allegedly using Rodriguez's own funds to pay back the donors. While it is not illegal to lie to the press, lying on a campaign contribution report will subject you to a felony charge of perjury.Read more
On September 12, 2017, the LAUSD School Board was set to take a vote to approve several charters for five-year renewals, including ICEF Innovation. However, before doing so they needed to hear public comment. The following are my remarks before the Board:
We are told continuously that the purpose of charters is innovation and experimentation. Looking at this school’s website, it seems that their experiment is taking Gifted and Talented methods and applying that to the entire school population. This is interesting in itself because 0% of the student population is identified as Gifted and Talented. But that was their experiment.
I guess that we could have a debate about whether it is great to be experimenting with children, to begin with, but that is the law. However, part of experimenting is we have to recognize when the experiment has failed. When the California Charter School Association itself gives a statewide ranking of the school a three out of ten, in my book that is a fail. How can we continue with the same process? It failed, so why not stop it?Read more
“State law provides that an authorizer is not liable for debts, obligations [or] liabilities so long as [they] provide appropriate oversight. We believe we are providing appropriate oversight.” [emphasis mine]
- José Cole-Gutiérrez
As the District slides towards bankruptcy due to declining enrollment, the LAUSD School Board acted on Tuesday on another round of charter renewals and material revisions. Oblivious to the effects of refusing to oversee the charters under its jurisdiction, the Board approved these requests ignoring the shortfalls of these charters:
The ICEF chain of charters requested renewals for three of its locations. The chain has a laudable goal of “maximizing academic achievement” by focusing on the tenet that "if you teach students at the bottom 25% as though they are the bottom, they will always stay at the bottom." It, therefore, uses a model that “is designed to improve the education of disadvantaged and underserved students by applying the same ‘acceleration’ techniques used with gifted and talented students” as if children are widgets that can be manufactured to spec.Read more
On Tuesday, August 23, 2017, I made a third presentation to the LAUSD School Board about the enrollment practices of Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) and the Charter Schools Division’s lack of enforcement of the school’s charter. The following are a transcript of my remarks:
I came before this Board in June to show you what I had found out about Granada Hills Charter High School and their enrollment practices. At that time, the Charter School Division was instructed to look into the matter and get back to me. The letter that I received in response is, to be polite, disappointing. This is included in the packet that I have provided to you.Read more
According to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Charter School Division (CSD), “requesting a copy of a student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) or information contained in a student’s IEP during the pre-admission stage creates an inference...that the charter school may be using this information to ‘counsel out’ or otherwise discourage students with disabilities from seeking admission” For this reason, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) charter includes a statement that they “shall not request or require submission of a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or any other record or related information prior to admission” (emphasis mine). Despite this prohibition, the school’s Enrollment For Incoming Students, enrollment entry page and New Student Information page on the GHCHS website still asks parents to submit IEP and 504 plans.
The LAUSD CSD was notified on March 12, 2017, about these violations of the school’s charter but did not force them to comply. The School Board was made aware of this lack of action on June 13, 2017. Over two months later, GHCHS has not been forced to make the appropriate changes.
If you believe in the importance of giving equal access to all educational opportunities and would like to demand that the LAUSD School Board do the same, please sign the Change.Org petition asking the LAUSD Board to pass the Holding GHCHS Accountable to Their Charter Resolution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
- The First Amendment
Apparently, the Bill of Rights is not something that LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist or his staff was taught in law school. After I wrote an email to Board Member Ref Rodriguez in December 2015, Holmquist responded that there was “no legal support” for the assertion that Rodriguez’ use of the block feature on a Twitter account linked to his LAUSD sponsored web page was a “government supported abridgment of free speech.” Instead, he maintained that “under the law, communication, even communication with a government entity, is not unfettered.” He did, however, state that he was “open to reviewing” any “legal authority (e.g., statutes [sic], regulations, case law, etc.) supporting” my position. The message was clear - if you want to avail yourself of your rights in the LAUSD, you had better be prepared to pay for legal counsel.
“Although comparison of GHCHS’ current demographic data to the data of other schools in the surrounding community does show differences in the numbers and percentages of students in various subgroups, historical demographics data shows that GHCHS has generally increased its diversity over time. For example, in its current approved charter, the school reported that, since its prior renewal in 2008, it had experienced...a 5.0 percent drop (32.3 to 27.3 percent) in its White student population.”
- LAUSD Charter School Division
As the school year begins it is clear that the students of LAUSD’s public schools are on their own. The charter industry and their allies spent $11,459,786.26 in the last election cycles purchasing a majority of the LAUSD School Board seats and they are now cleared to operate without even the minimal oversight that was previously provided. Under this new regime, the LAUSD’s Charter School Division (CSD) refuses to take action against charters, even when presented with evidence of wrongdoing.Read more
- NAACP Task Force on Quality Education
When confronting the newly anointed Los Angeles County Board of Education President about his support for a charter that was failing its students, Alex Johnson accused me of being “against high-quality education for black and brown students”. Anti-immigrant agitator Arthur Schaper pulled from the same counterfeit deck of race cards to claim that I “believe Black/Hispanic Americans are too stupid to choose the school for their kids”. When presenting at the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education at their hearing in Los Angeles, I was heckled by charter supporters for targeting a “black school” when showing how View Park Middle School was allowed to continue operating despite the fact that it had “presented an unsound educational program”. Apparently, none of these critics realized that my most vociferous criticisms have been of Granada Hills Charter High School and El Camino Charter High School, both of which are located in the San Fernando Valley and serve high populations of white students.
Perhaps the reason that charter proponents are forced to rely on desperate personal attacks is that the facts do not back up their assertion that charters help to improve opportunities for minority students. The NAACP report quotes a study that found 37% of charter schools “performed worse than their traditional public school counterparts serving similar students.” Another study “found that charter school enrollment explained less than one hundredth of 1% of the variation in students’ test performance.” In comparison, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University, Sacramento, testified that “class size reduction [has] 400% more impact. Pre-K? 1000% more impact than charters.” This seems to suggest that those pushing for privatization of our schools over more proven methods of improving education outcomes have interests other than reducing the achievement gap.Read more
Mainstreaming of students with special education needs requires training, effort and a focus on student need.
My wife sat heartbroken as she watched my daughter’s classmates shunned her as she tried to interact with them. Despite the fact that most children on the autism spectrum have difficulties establishing social interactions, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had decided that the chaos of lunch period was an appropriate time to provide a “mainstreaming” opportunity. Without any professional assistance, she would leave the confines of her self-contained classroom to eat with children without disabilities in an effort to improve “academic achievement, self-esteem, and social skills.” She was making a valiant effort, but the other students also lacked training and could not get past her quirks. It was hard to see how this was doing anything but damaging her self-esteem.
The results did not get any better as my wife entered into a general education classroom to observe another effort at mainstreaming. While in the special day classroom, my daughter had received focused attention to keep her on task in the curriculum. However, in this general education classroom the teacher was responsible for teaching an entire class and did not have time for students who could not keep up. Therefore, the students with special needs were placed in the back of the room and given games to play with on their computers. Was just being in the same classroom as students without disabilities supposed to provide academic achievement? Segregated from the rest of the class, she certainly was not improving her social skills.Read more