Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

The Cost of Independence

In  2011, a group of educators at El Camino Real High School,  inspired by a desire for more autonomy and flexibility in instructional practices, curriculum, governance, and finances, led the school’s conversion to an independent charter school.

-El Camino Real Charter High School (ECRCHS) Web Site


While the bloated bureaucracy of the LAUSD is certainly not a model of efficient governance, the extra sets of eyes pointed at a school site does make it more difficult for a site administrator to go rogue. This makes it harder for schools to be innovative with their academic programs and is a reason why the District needs to learn to sometimes stay out of the way. However, it also means that financial improprieties are more likely to be discovered. Given the recent reports of “lavish credit card use” by ECRCHS’ principal, one has to wonder if the school’s administration knew this when they converted the school to a charter seeking “more autonomy and flexibility” in their finances. After all, it hard to imagine an LAUSD principal being able to use a “school-issued American Express card to charge $100,000 over two years” including $885.96 for an itinerary made out to “Mr. David Patrick Fehte/San Antonio Spurs.”

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¿Adelante?

The Spanish word “adelante” translates to “ahead” or “forward”. It is something that Monica Garcia, the incumbent District 2 representative, uses as a rallying cry at the end to many of her Tweets. Unfortunately for the students of the LAUSD, Garcia seems to be content with the satisfaction of simply moving ahead, even if the direction is unclear. In the ten years that she has spent on the LAUSD School Board, including six years as Board President, the District has moved in the wrong direction. Instead of improving the public schools under her control she brags about enacting “reforms that have created new charter schools” and was instrumental in bringing John Deasy and his $1.3 billion failed iPad initiative to the District. Failure is a predictable outcome from a politician who continues to campaign on slogans instead of well thought out goals or plans of action.

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Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters

 

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, I presented at Charters, Privatization and the Defense of Public Education, a California Education/Action Conference at Richmond High School in Richmond, California. My speech asked “If the charter law was passed to improve education through competition, why isn’t the LAUSD School Board playing to win?” and is based on the following paper:

Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency

-Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis

In 1992, the California legislature gambled with our children’s futures and allowed “teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure”. Freeing these charters “from many of the state statutes and regulations that apply to school districts”, was seen “as a method to accomplish” a series of outcomes. Specifically written into the legislation was that these privately run organizations would “provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools”.

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(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Opt-Out)

All students must participate fully in GHCHS assessments 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. Students who clearly disregard an assessment as determined by the testing coordinator or test proctor will be regarded as having refused to comply with the testing requirement and may be subject to loss of senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics.

-2016-17 GHCHS Parent/Student Handbook

It took almost a year, but Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) has finally changed their Parent/Student Handbook so that it recognizes that “per California Education Code 60615, parents and guardians have the right to exempt their child from participating in the CAASPP program. California Education Code 60615 reads as follows: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent's or guardian's written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted.” Most importantly, they have removed the requirement that “all students must participate fully in California CAASPP” in order to participate in extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, this does nothing to change the fact that past students were coerced into taking these tests in the school’s effort “to ensure that enough students participate in both state mandated and Granada selected assessments”. The LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) was given enough notice that these changes could have been made before last year’s testing season, but they chose to ignore the deadline.

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LAUSD Law

The 14-year-old student “went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?

- W. Keith Wyatt, representing the LAUSD

The LAUSD’s Office of the General Counsel (GC) employs a legal staff whose mission is to “provide effective and proactive legal advice and quality representation while creating an ethical environment in support of a high quality learning environment for all students.” Unfortunately, this department does not seem to be adequately staffed as they also hire outside law firms to handle litigation against the District. These outside firms do not seem to be held to the same ethical standards as described in the GC’s mission statement.

W. Keith Wyatt had “represented the District for 27 years” when he “advanced the argument that an 8th grader who has oral, vaginal, and anal sex with a teacher learns maturity from the experience and is unlikely to ever need counseling as a result” and that “minors can consent to sex with adults” so the court should “impose responsibility on minor students for their own sexual abuse by teachers.” While the GC David Holmquist did not intervene during the course of the trial or the appeal, he could not ignore the outcry after the lawyer stated in a radio interview that “it was a more dangerous decision for a 14-year-old to cross a street in traffic than to have sex with her middle-school teacher.” In November 2014, Wyatt was “barred from any further legal work with the district” - at least until things quieted down.

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Drinking A Charter School's Kool-Aid

ECRCHS_Board_Meeting.JPG

“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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