Obstruction in the "Public Interest"?

At the present time, we have no further documents to provide you and you cannot request over and over that we search and search again and again.  You cannot continue to ask that we provide you with documents that are non-existent, confidential, exempt, or subject to the deliberative process.

-LAUSD, Office of the General Counsel

While students are expected to turn in their homework on time, the LAUSD bureaucracy does not operate under the same rules. Five weeks past the date they had originally promised, the District finally provided their response to my request for “any complaint filed with the LAUSD Charter Schools Division [CSD] about Granada Hills Charter High School along with” their response. To no one’s surprise, the bureaucrats had not used the extra time to make sure that they performed a thorough and complete search.

One clue to the incompleteness of the documents was the fact that not all of my complaints were included in the release. Their explanation that “complaints received from you were removed from the production provided” rang hollow as some of my e-mails were, in fact, included. Additionally, the CSD’s responses to these complaints were also missing. Furthermore, some of the released documents seemed to be islands of disconnected information and it was very obvious that they were the midpoints of a conversation. In one case, Alex Gomez, a Specialist at the CSD, asked the school’s Executive Director to “provide CSD with a response and next steps by Friday, April 3, 2015 so that [he] can manage this information.” A response from the school was not included nor was there any further correspondence from the CSD making sure that their instructions were followed. Either the District neglected to provide these documents or the CSD never followed up. Either scenario does not inspire confidence in the abilities of the District to work with parents to ensure proper oversight of the Charter Schools.

While the District acknowledged that they had “received less than five UCP [Uniform Complaint Process] related to Granada Hills containing students’ or parents’ allegations”, the details were not provided to me based on their claim that, under “Gov. Code §6254(c), UCP complaints received by the District are not disclosed to the public as complainants have the right to confidentiality.” Since disclosure of this information in its raw form could “constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy”, I informed the District that they could protect privacy by redacting the names and other identifying information of the complainants. The District replied that “information gathered by a government agency under assurances of confidentiality may be withheld if it is in the public interest to do so.”

The LAUSD would not specify the public interest that is being served by withholding the UCPs, but took an opportunity to note that “these documents contain student personal information, dates of birth, home addresses, parents’ names, cell phone numbers, third party identification, such as other students and/or staff involved” and, therefore, “the information contained within these documents is also protected pursuant to FERPA guidelines.” Apparently, this information is so sensitive that even in its redacted form it can prevent the public from finding out information regarding complaints about charter schools, but these schools are free to release this same information to political organizations without consequence.

I had carefully constructed the second part of my request to match documents that I already had in my possession. Still, the District responded that they had “no responsive documents to [my] request.” Ignoring the fact that I told them that I have proof that these documents exist, they insisted that “a search was conducted with the phrases you identified and once again, there are no further documents to provide you with.”

The final part of my request was for “any email to or from anyone in the Charter Schools Division that was addressed to or received from Tamar Galatzan” from June 1 through November 2, 2015. The District’s first response stated that these were included in my set of documents. When I pointed out that there were no documents meeting this criteria and asked if they had been mistakenly omitted, I was told that the search “resulted in numerous documents which are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Gov. Code §6254(a).” I pointed out that Tamar Galatzan was formerly an elected Board Member and did not work for the CSD. Therefore, these records would not include the personnel records that are exempt from disclosure. However, the District insisted that “documents located fitting the description of [my] search, returned confidential documents not disclosed to the public.” Apparently, the public is not allowed to know why a former Board Member who had her failed reelection campaign paid for by the Charter Schools is now contacting the LAUSD department that is in charge of regulating these same schools.

Once again, it is time for the Board of Education to step up and demand accountability from both the Charter School Division and the Office of the General Counsel. While the district may promise “parent and community engagement,” neither of these divisions seems to work towards this goal. First the CSD fails to provide oversight or respond to parent complaints. Instead it finds itself lobbied with “numerous” documents from a supporter of the industry that they are supposed to legislate. Then the Office of the General Counsel collaborates with them to prevent the public from knowing what is going on. The Board holds the power to stop this stonewalling and has been copied on all of the correspondence referred to in this article. They had better step up quickly.  Eli Broad is knocking and, if he is let in, he will privatize half the district and send the rest into bankruptcy.