Three years ago, Soralia Castro made the difficult decision to remove her daughter Amy Carranza from Angeles Mesa elementary school in South Los Angeles. After Amy had lost her teacher and faced the prospect of a school year with a sub who was not credentialed, Soralia complained to the school administration. The principal asked why Amy cared since, "the children of Angeles Mesa do not graduate anyway," Soralia said.
Despite her 13-year-old daughter Amy’s success at her new district school, Soralia is still indignant. That’s why she joined a group of parents whose kids currently attend Angeles Mesa to speak up at the LAUSD board meeting last Tuesday about problems they are facing at the school. Issues the parents raised include low student achievement, safety issues, disrespect for parents, lack of budget transparency, harsh physical discipline against students and discrimination against Spanish-speaking families.
Before taking her daughter out of the school, Soralia said the principal told her that she could call the school district and say anything she wanted about her. "She told me, 'I do not care what you think or say about me,'” and, “'If you think your daughter is smart, you can take her to another school.'”
So Castro did exactly that. She and several other parents said they met on multiple occasions with the principal and more recently with Autri Streeck, Director of Local District West, but problems at the school continued. As a result, they decided to join Speak UP and share their concerns publicly with the board.
"Over the past four years, I, along with many other parents, have dealt with an alarming decline in teaching quality, grave security issues, a lack of special education services, lack of transparency in school finances, with discrimination and reprisals by the administration,” said Griselda Rauda, mother of two children, ages 10 and 8, enrolled at Angeles Mesa.
In March, a man allegedly armed with a knife entered the school, and although the police handled the situation, parents were not notified immediately, Griselda told the board.
Silvia Bonilla is parent of a third grader at Angeles Mesa who has special needs. She complained to the board about an incident in which her son was disciplined by pulling his arms behind his back as if he were being arrested. “These kind of strategies are unacceptable in a school, especially because a protocol had already been established in the school for my son, which instructs how the school staff should work with him,” she said.
The parents who spoke before the board Tuesday all spoke in Spanish and complained that administrators at the school don’t speak Spanish, even though 55 percent of students are Latino, and 25 percent are English Learners. Soralia said parents had been insulted and told that their kids won’t succeed because they don’t speak English.
“There is no respect for parents at the school,” Griselda said. “The district survey shows the parents do not feel welcome.”
She also complained about the quality of education the kids are receiving. “Seventy percent of the students are failing to meet state standards in English and 79 percent are failing in math,” she said. “We asked for tutoring for children that are behind, and the principal told us that it was not the teachers’ obligation…The principal has told us several times, ‘If you do not like it, you can go look for another school.’"
After Griselda spoke, District 1 Board Member George McKenna asked district staff to follow up. “I am concerned about everything that I heard here,” he said. “Can’t verify any of it at this point…I think there are some misunderstandings here about a lot of things.”
Afterward, several LAUSD staff members met privately with the parents for more than two hours. Administrator Rosalinda Lugo, Special Assistant to the Chief Academic Officer Aixle Aman, and Direct Operations Director Zsuzsanna Vincze all expressed concern about the situation at Angeles Mesa Elementary and committed to review each of the reported incidents and issues and come up with a plan to address them.
Speak UP reached out to the Angeles Mesa principal to address the parent allegations, but she declined to comment.
The parent demands are clear. They’re asking for a reevaluation of the special needs programs, campus security reinforcement, and school budget transparency. They want parents to be respected and allowed to volunteer on campus. They want Latin celebrations at the school to be reinstated, and if these demands are not met, they are asking for the school to receive a new principal.
"My daughter is now in another school and has good grades, but I'm still upset,” Castro said. “My daughter was robbed of the opportunity to [graduate with her friends], to have and keep her graduation photos, the memories and the special feelings. The principal did not show compassion…That still affects us.”
-- Aurelia Fierros