Our mission is to engage, educate, and activate public school parents to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their schools, in their communities, with elected representatives, and at the ballot box.
By Roxann Nazario
With nearly a week to digest what happened at last Tuesday’s board meeting, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of hurt and disappointment. As we all now know, Nick Melvoin (BD4) was the only LAUSD board member who truly stood for students and voted against a resolution calling on the state to ban new charter schools for nearly a year.
In the past, Monica Garcia (BD2) and my board member, Kelly Gonez (BD6), have typically supported school choice, but that was not the case with this resolution. To say that parents of Board District 6 are disappointed in their board member would be an understatement. Last Wednesday, my phone was buzzing all day with calls and messages from parents who campaigned for Kelly, asking, “How could she do this to us?”
One fellow BD6 parent, Elisa Avalos, told me she was very disappointed in Kelly, but she was also “very proud of Nick because he's the one that actually listened to us.” Avalos and I are part of a core group of seven moms that supported and campaigned for Kelly in the 2017 election. We recruited fellow parents to help us knock on hundreds of doors and make thousands of phone calls urging voters to vote for Kelly. Over the past year and a half that Kelly has been in office, we met with her periodically to discuss issues, such the need for more high-quality middle schools. In the city of Sylmar, where I live, we have only two middle schools. My neighborhood middle school, Olive Vista, which my cousins and mom all attended, has a notorious reputation for rampant fights and bullying. I won't even mention the academics and low proficiency. The other option is PUC, which enrolls only about 300 students. I and a group of moms from Board District 6 had hoped and expected that Kelly would help us create more quality middle school options, but that has yet to happen, and now maybe it never will.
Our biggest fear, though, is that a moratorium is just the first step in a statewide effort to shut down our kids’ schools — even the most successful ones that serve kids well. We have faced this threat before with bills like SB808, which would have let LAUSD shut down all high-performing charter schools — merely because they compete for student attendance dollars. It also would have taken away a school’s right to appeal the decision to the county or state. In 2017, we fought very hard to stop SB808, which was also referred to as the “charter killer” bill. At the time, Gonez did not support this bill either. But the language of this resolution appears to open the door to the state acting against our schools’ very right to exist, yet again. We are also afraid this resolution will prompt the state to take away our kids’ right to an equal share of public school space. Prop 39, which guarantees our public school students have a place to learn, is fundamental to our schools’ ability to even exist. The study required by this resolution asks the state to look into changes to the laws regulating authorization and facilities allocations.
As an educator and parent, I stood with my kids’ teachers during the UTLA strike. I did not cross the picket line and brought teachers coffee and donuts in the rain.
But I’ve been listening to a lot of rhetoric over the past two weeks, leading up to Tuesday’s vote on a charter moratorium. And after experiencing these raging education wars from nearly every angle, I’ve come to believe there’s really only one side to be on: the side of the kids.
Kids, no matter what type of school they attend, deserve a quality education. Charter schools help provide that, and they’re not the cause of LAUSD’s failures. That notion is utterly ridiculous.
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?
When my daughter’s LAUSD-run preschool program closed during the teachers strike, it was a difficult juggle for me as a working parent. But we made it work and visited her teachers on the picket line to show support for their demands for higher pay, lower class sizes, more nurses, librarians and counselors.
A week after standing with L.A.’s teachers, though, I’m wondering, will they also stand with me? I was stunned to learn that one condition UTLA demanded in exchange for ending the strike was for the LAUSD school Board to vote on a resolution this Tuesday asking the state to place a moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles.
As a transgender, Afro-Latina mother to a daughter entering kindergarten next year, finding the right school where she will feel safe and nurtured is no simple matter. One size does not fit all, especially for a family like ours. So like many of my neighbors, I’m looking at all of my options. That includes applying to several progressive and high-performing nonprofit public charter schools.
There’s a good chance that I, like thousands of parents in Los Angeles, will wind up on a waitlist wishing that there more seats or one more good option available. A moratorium won’t help families like mine, who don’t happen to be fortunate enough to live in a zip code with a high-performing neighborhood school or the means to attend a private school.
On the fifth day of the strike, I showed up to City Hall where the L.A. teacher’s union was holding their rally. I went to the rally because, as a parent of a child enrolled in an independent charter school, I would like to support the teachers’ demands for smaller class sizes and more support staff such as nurses, counselors and librarians. These demands are essential to a healthy thriving school environment and something I think most people support. I believe that all district and charter schools should have these resources and services they need on site for all students.
The mission of Speak UP is to engage, educate and activate parents and community members to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their children’s schools, in their communities, with elected representatives and at the ballot box.
La misión de Speak UP es involucrar, educar y activar a los padres y miembros de la comunidad para abogar en las escuelas de sus hijos, en sus comunidades, con representantes electos y en las urnas por una educación pública excelente y equitativa.