“Golden” Granada Hills Charter High School: Scofflaws When It Comes to California Ed Code?

Per GHCHS Board Policy, all students must participate fully in California CAASPP and Granada Testing 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 (GHCHS Parent-Student Handbook).

-Granada Hills Charter High School

If you had your car stolen and then saw it being driven on the streets, your first call would probably be to the local police department. It would not be unreasonable for you to expect that these trained professionals would take care of the situation by confronting the driver and taking appropriate action. But what would you think if they instead told you that it was your responsibility to find out why the person was driving your car? This is essentially what the LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division (CSD) does in handling complaints.

Once the LAUSD becomes the authorizing entity for a charter school, it “is responsible for ensuring the charter school operates in compliance with all applicable laws and terms of its charter.” However, in three separate cases, I have contacted the CSD to report that Granada Hills Charter High School may be operating outside the boundaries of the ed code and in all three cases the division failed to take meaningful action. In May, I reported that the school was charging up to $60.00 for graduation caps and gowns despite a California Department of Education policy that states that “a district may not require students to purchase a cap and gown as a condition of participating in the graduation ceremony.” The CSD’s Alex Gomez did not force them to issue refunds and then took a place on the graduation dais as the school’s honored guest. At the beginning of September, I expressed concern about the school’s plans to release student data to a lobbying organization, but have not received a response beyond “we’re looking into it.” The most current situation involves the school’s stated policy of retaliating against students whose parents have opted them out of standardized testing.

Parents can opt their children out of state mandated standardized tests “by writing a note to the school administrators citing California Ed Code 60615: ‘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.” While schools cannot retaliate against these students, Granada’s written policy specifies students cannot participate in graduation if they do not “participate fully in annual state testing.” It also states that students who do not “participate fully in California CAASPP and Granada Testing” will be prohibited from participating in “optional activities such as senior activities, school extracurricular activities and school athletics.” These penalties also extend to students if the testing coordinator or test proctor feels they have “clearly disregarded the test.” In addition to violating parental rights, the subjective standards of the last provision opens the door for the school to “counsel out” students who will decrease the school’s average test scores. After all, shouldn’t it be obvious that students with low test scores were disregarding the seriousness of these tests?

Two weeks after submitting my concerns to the CSD, I finally received a phone call from Alex Gomez and Dr. Joyce Johnson from the CSD. They informed me that they had discussed my e-mail with the district’s lawyers and had decided that they had to “respect the independence” of GHCHS and, therefore, I had to take my complaints directly to the school’s administration or their unelected governing board. When I protested that as the authorizer of the charter, the LAUSD was responsible for addressing compliance with the law, I was told that GHCHS was responsible for their own charter. Dr. Johnson then stated they “don’t do oversight.” I was on my own if I wanted to ensure that students are protected by the law in this privately run school that receives public tax dollars.

After I reported this conversation to Board member Scott Schmerelson, Dr. Johnson sent an email to me denying that she had said that they “do not provide oversight” and admitted that oversight is their “primary responsibility.” Contrary to our phone conversation she also stated that they “are continuing to review and analyze the situation as part of our oversight and will conclude in due course based on evidence.” This was an interesting choice of words given that the policy had been removed from the school’s web page where it had originally appeared. Apparently, the school did not realize that a google search would result in a link to Parent-Student Handbook where the policy is still listed.

The CSD’s Director, Jose Cole-Gutierrez, brags that the “LAUSD has become the largest district charter school authorizer in the nation,” but an organization that makes “decisions that put the interests of students first” should not be measuring success by quantity but by quality. They need to refocus their efforts on ensuring this quality by taking seriously their “primary responsibility” to oversee these schools and shut down those that refuse to follow the rules or are failing to maintain the standards established by their charters. Instead of focusing only on those students who are capable of being “college-prepared and career-ready,” they need to ensure that charter schools are not cherry-picking out those in need of intensive special education services. If they are serious about ensuring that every student has “viable choices,” they need to audit each school’s lottery process to ensure that they are not actively recruiting students to artificially inflate the measures of academic success. Most important of all, they need to make these changes immediately since Eli Broad is planning to greatly increase the number of charter schools within the district.