The Blackwhite World of LAUSD's Charter Schools

BLACKWHITE...a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.

- George Orwell, 1984

Catherine Suitor, the Chief Development Officer of Alliance College-Ready Public [SIC] Schools is correct when she states that “encouraging parents to be involved should not be seen as a negative thing.” However, her response ignores the real issue raised by my testimony before the LAUSD School Board which is how far can a charter go before “encouragement” is actually “intimidation”? If volunteering “is not mandated,” then why does her organization keep track of the number of hours for each student? If publishing this data on the school’s website was truly meant to be “completely [the] opposite of shaming”, why are the number of hours included on the list? If the publication of this information “is a way to recognize and congratulate those who are involved”, why are the hours listed under the students’ names and not according to the people who actually “volunteered”? If the school’s “parents are eager and welcomed to be involved”, why are they not allowed to vote for their representation on the Governing Board? Instead, this Board, itself appointed by an outside organization, appoints two parents ensuring that dissension is not given a voice.

Curiously, the LA School Report article did not address the most serious allegation against the Alliance schools, which is that a list of their names is publically released on a public website.  This violates privacy rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Instead of responding to this allegation, Alliance quietly took down the page that linked to the information. While this is a welcome action that restores their students’ privacy, it does not hold Alliance accountable for their actions or address the issue of why it went unnoticed for so long. Advocates for charter accountability should not have to engage in a game of whack-a-violation to protect students enrolled in these schools.

Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) has also displayed a unique use of language when responding to charges that their enrollment practices violate the rights of students with extra needs. Going back to at least March 10, 2015, the school included Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 plans in the list of documents that were “REQUIRED” for enrollment. However, when confronted with this violation of their charter in a formal complaint, the school responded that these documents are simply “requested”, that their disclosure was “voluntary” and “not required for enrollment.” This seems to contradict the statement that “if all mandatory documents are NOT provided at the time of the appointment, the student will not be enrolled.” It is also unclear how the school can simultaneously claim that it “has not engaged in the alleged improper conduct and is not found to be in violation of any LAUSD or School policy or applicable law” but also admits that it must “amend the language to further the [SIC] clarify its correct practice.

Another example of creative wordplay was provided by José Cole-Gutiérrez, Director of the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD). The LA School Report quotes him as saying that “last year there were only three” identified corrections that needed to be made to the enrollment processes of the charters that he oversees. He meant this as proof that the CSD “checks websites for policy violations”, but it takes on an entirely new meaning when taking into account the allegations against GHCHS, El Camino Real Charter High School and the 28 schools operated by Alliance. Did the CSD only find three items requiring correction because violations do not exist or because they are not looking closely enough?

With the allegations receiving public attention, the CSD appears to be finally encouraging GHCHS to take action. The current version of the GHCHS website has moved the IEP and 504 Plan from the list of required documents. Instead, it states that they are “voluntary documents which can be provided after enrollment.” Unfortunately, this still appears to violate the terms of their charter which states that “Granada Hills Charter shall not request or require submission of a student’s IEP, 504 Plan...prior to admission” (emphasis mine). This language is contained under “Non-Discrimination” in the charter and is meant to ensure students with disabilities are not dissuade from enrolling. The creative use of language to change the point in the process when the school wants these documents turned over does not change the fact that the request is still made on an information sheet about enrollment. If Cole-Gutiérrez is serious about his promise to “follow up on these specific cases”, then any mention of the IEP and 504 will permanently disappear from the enrollment page.

“GHCHS considers this matter closed”

- Brian Bauer, March 3, 2017