By Lisa Mosko
I came to Speak UP a year and a half ago as a volunteer bent on effecting real and urgent change in this gigantic district we call LAUSD. In the 2017 LAUSD Board District 4 election campaign, I witnessed first-hand the power of parents coming together to upend the electoral status quo. Parents from across the district came together, from all school models, to fight for a board member who would listen to the voices of parents and put kids first.
Inspired by the parent power momentum of the campaign, I decided I wanted to focus on an area that was close to my heart and that had been plaguing the district for years. As a mother of two special needs children, who landed here from New York City several years ago, I was aghast at the dearth of resources, the culture of low expectations and general lack of supports I saw for any kid who didn’t fit the “regular” learning profile. This includes kids who have or need IEPs, speak English as a second language, have brown or black skin, or who live in underserved neighborhoods.
As time went by, I started working more closely with Speak UP to support parents of kids with special needs by providing them with the tools and knowledge to raise their voices on behalf of their children.
In this role, over the past year, I’ve met with over 100 families, from all walks of life, who send their special needs kids to all kinds of schools. Sadly, too many of those kids have been failed by the system. With each family I met, story after story would emerge, most of them sad, some of them horrible, and all of them with life changing ramifications. My job has been to educate them on their basic rights in public education, and empower them to advocate for important changes to the system. I find this work deeply satisfying, but I am amazed that the school system doesn’t support these parents more. Parents are on the front lines with these kids, picking up the pieces when the school system fails them, and left to figure out on their own how to get their kids back up and lead their best lives. So when, they wonder, will their voices finally be heard?
Educators often bemoan the lack of parent engagement. However, if you ask parents, they will tell you that opportunities to get involved, even to share their ideas, are few and far between, and often scheduled during parents’ work hours, or structured in a way that is so controlled by the schools and district to be unproductive. Given the right opportunity and platform, I know that parents would speak up and demand meaningful change in the way our district serves our most vulnerable students.
At Speak UP, we work tirelessly towards this goal, and thankfully, we are not alone in our parent advocacy efforts. Other groups, such as Parent Revolution, Innovate Public Schools , Families in Schools and Great Public Schools Now are all part of a larger coalition of parents and kids-first advocacy. We are all pushing hard to have our parents’ voices heard.
Every day, across the city, we are gathering with our parents, educating them, empowering them and offering them a space to find their collective voice. However, the reality is that a few, isolated groups of parents can have only so much impact, unless they all come together. Thankfully, that opportunity is coming very soon.
On February 9, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles Convention Center, in the name of ONE CITY, ALL KIDS, Great Public Schools Now is organizing a free parent summit, and inviting all of these organizations and their constituents to participate. Imagine 1000 parents, all in one space, raising their voices together on behalf of Los Angeles’ children.
More than an irrefutable display of raw parent power, the ONE CITY, ALL KIDS summit is an opportunity to unite educational advocates from across the city and coalesce a movement of parents, the only adults whose top priority is their children.
Just like two years ago, we have another opportunity to show the power of parents coming together to demand change at LAUSD. This is our time again, to have our voices heard.
With an upcoming election in Board District 5, we must demand a kids-first board member, who will work with parents across the district to put the needs of our kids above all else. The summit will feature a candidate forum for the upcoming Board District 5 election on March 5, 2019, and these candidates, in advance of being interviewed at the event by a panel of parents, will bear witness to parents’ stories and have the privilege of hearing the message directly from parents who are coming together to demand change, and now.
Additionally, parents at the summit will receive information on what other groups are working on, find common ground, and join forces to advocate on behalf of their kids. Focusing primarily on five of the most underserved regions of LAUSD — Pico-Union, San Fernando, East LA, South LA, and Southeast LA — the summit will address issues of equity, access and equality.
Join us on February 9, 2019 to raise our collective parent voice and be a part of the conversation about lifting up our most underserved kids, and educating the next generation. Let’s do it for equity, access and quality education.
Let’s do it for parent power. But most of all, let’s do it for the kids.