This article was originally published on K12 News Network's The Wire
Our School “is permitted to meet with your child without your knowledge of prior consent.”
-James W. Salin, GHCHS Governing Board Chair
Like a page out of 1984, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) includes stock language in responses to complaints asserting that “GHCHS values your input”, while the actual response shows the direct opposite. In the latest example they ignored my wife’s formal complaint about how our parental rights were violated when the school’s nursing staff tried to return my daughter to physical education earlier than the doctor had instructed and contrary to what she had specified in a note written to the school, with a response that provided a dissertation on the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and how the school complies with these regulations. A follow up request for the school to investigate the actual terms of the complaint and correct errors within their findings of fact was met with a response that “my April 4, 2016 response addresses your complaints, so no amended response is being issued.”
The school’s response does demonstrate how the school actually views parent engagement. In his response, James W. Salin, the school’s Governing Board Chair, relied on the GHCHS’s Parental Notifications of Searches/Interviews policy to explain why my wife was not informed of a medical decision made by the school. He stated that “while every effort will be made to maintain open and strong communication between the school and home, it may be necessary to administratively search and/or interview a student without notifying a parent or guardian.” He further explained that “GHCHS has a right to speak with students without parental permission”, that “neither GHCHS’s UCP nor General Complaint Procedures require the Executive Director to meet with a complainant” and that there is no requirement for the school’s staff to let parents know that there is a formal complaint process since the Parent-Student handbook only states that “GHCHS may provide a complaint form for persons wishing to file a complaint to fill out and file” (emphasis theirs). Most curiously, Salin determined that “there is no corrective action required at this time” despite the fact that my daughter had been refused permission to call her mother when school policy states that “when students request to call their parents during this type of meeting, those requests are generally granted” (emphasis mine). Salin had previously stated that “the school nurses have been informed that students are generally allowed to call home in similar situations”, which should have been recognized as a corrective action. Even better would have been to extend this training to all school staff.
The response concludes with a statement that “there is not a right to appeal decisions issued under GHCHS’s General Complaint Policy.” Legally, this is incorrect as the school’s charter is authorized by the LAUSD and the District which, therefore, has an obligation of oversight over the school. Unfortunately, this is a responsibility that the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) continuously refuses to accept, even when a school flagrantly disregards California’s education code. As an example, the CSD is allowing GHCHS to bully parents into disregarding their right to opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing.
The California education code allows students “to be exempted and excused from...taking any and all statewide performance assessments.” GHCHS seeks to undermine this choice by stating in their Parent-Student Handbook that students must “fully participate in annual state testing” as part of the eligibility requirements for sports, extra-curricular teams/associations and campus clubs. I notified both the CSD and LAUSD Board months ago of this violation and was assured by the CSD on December 2, 2015, that “in formal communication with the school [they] have made it clear that GHCHS shall not impermissibly penalize students for parental exercise of the legal right to excuse the student from testing” and they expect “the school to take all steps necessary to ensure it is in legal compliance, including reviewing and revising the school’s Parent-Student Handbook and providing notice to parents of the revised policy/practice and revised Parent-Student Handbook.” However, when reminded that state testing begins this week and the language had not been fully removed, the CSD would only say that they had “obtained a response from Granada and are vetting it with our legal counsel.” Assurances that they “will act in accordance with recommendation of counsel as swiftly as possible” does nothing to protect the rights of parents this year who will be coerced into letting their students take these tests due to fear of retribution.
While charters are privately run, they are also publically funded. The public, therefore, has a right to expect that a parent should not have to sign away their rights in order for their children to attend schools that they have paid for. However, as long as the School Board continues to allow the CSD to abdicate their responsibilities, abuses at GHCHS and other charters will continue to occur.