While the LAUSD Board called on Congress and the state to pass stricter gun laws and on health insurers to provide quicker access to care for employees, parents showed up in force Tuesday and called on the Board to focus on its primary responsibility: to improve LA schools and help students succeed.
Gun violence dominated the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting, held the day before nationwide student walkouts inspired by the activism of the Parkland school shooting survivors. Seventeen chairs were taped off and left empty to represent each of the victims killed in last month’s shooting.
The Board passed a resolution, sponsored by Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4), Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) to create a Safe Schools Task Force that will include parents, students, teachers, administrators and law enforcement, to review LAUSD’s safety and security plans. It also called on the state and federal government to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and pass universal background checks, as well as increase funding for mental health services.
“I’m inspired by the student wave of activism sparked by the survivors of Parkland,” Melvoin said. “In the weeks and months after the Newtown shooting, when our Congress didn’t take action on behalf of our kids, I really thought that America had lost our soul on this issue. Kids across this country in the last month are asking that we get it back…No one should fear for their safety or their child’s safety when they’re at school.”
But while state and federal guns laws are not within the control of the Board of Education, the quality of the education our kids receive is well within its purview. And dozens of parents from Speak UP and Parent Revolution flooded the meeting to demand a plan to improve under-performing schools and to help vulnerable students, including LGBT kids, English language learners, kids with special needs, low-income students and those experiencing mistreatment by a teacher.
Parents from Parent Revolution presented an analysis to the Board showing the number of students in each Board district who are stuck in schools whose English and math scores are both in the orange or red on the state dashboard, indicating performance below grade level. They asked the Board for a plan to improve the schools and move them to green.
Speak UP’s Lisa Mosko, who serves on the LAUSD’s Community Advisory Committee for parents of kids with special needs, held up a copy of the 435-page UTLA contract and asked whether any of the Board members had actually read it. The only section of the contract mentioning kids with special needs was so outdated that it used phrases such as “educable retarded” and “trainable mentally retarded.”
“These words and their inclusion in the UTLA contract reveal a culture of ignorance and neglect in our public schools where kids with special needs are an embarrassing afterthought - quite literally a one-page attachment to a 435-page agreement with LAUSD,” she said. “When the UTLA contract describes our kids using offensive language, it’s time to throw it out and start over, giving parents a seat at the table.”
Speak UP's Eve Jimenez discussed the challenges she’s had getting her 5th-grade son at Walgrove elementary school, an English Language learner, to reclassify, even though he has passed two standardized tests indicating English proficiency. He wasn’t getting the intervention he was entitled to until she “made a lot of noise,” she said.
“If a West Side parent who is fluent in English and web savvy has had this much trouble getting her son help, I can only imagine how difficult is for parents who don’t speak English and who have less access to information,” Jimenez said. “Our EL kids are being left behind and written off at LAUSD. There’s a crisis of low expectations and indifference. And parents have no real rights to do anything about it and to make sure our kids are getting the education they deserve…Our schools and teachers must be held accountable for helping our kids succeed.”
Among the other Speak UP parents addressing the Board were:
· Gloria Rodriguez spoke up about LAUSD’s treatment of LGBT students. “My daughter is a lesbian who has faced discrimination from homophobic administrators and some teachers who told her she was not allowed to hold hands with her girlfriend or show affection,” she said. “My child and her girlfriend were constantly asked invasive questions by counselors and administrators…No one was ever held accountable for their actions.”
· A couple parents from Carthay elementary attended the meeting and begged LAUSD to help with a teacher they said had angry outbursts with first-grade students and locked a child with special needs outside her classroom when it was cold. The teacher accused students of stealing coins being used in a math game, calling them “thieves” and telling them they would never go to college because they’d be in trouble with the police, one parent told the Board. Her son was too terrified to attend school, saying “the teacher is cruel,” but the principal did not seem concerned. “What must a parent do if a principal is not doing much to help parents resolve the issue of their children being mistreated by a teacher?”
· Rosa Andresen, the mom of a 20-year-old child with cerebral palsy, spoke up about the treatment of kids with disabilities being sent away from Pacific elementary during the phasing out of its secondary program. “I understand and applaud the motivation behind mainstreaming our kids, but the schools that kids are being sent to are in no way ready to care for them,” she said. The rooms are not equipped with sinks or bathrooms or changing tables for the students who wear diapers, and one teacher was forced to wash a feeding tube using a two-gallon jug of water. “Another child was placed in a closet to feed so that other children would not be exposed to the feeding tube and become afraid,” she said.
· Roxann Nazario spoke about the safety and quality of neighborhood schools in Board District 6 and asked LAUSD to hold all schools accountable and support more quality options for parents.
Also at the meeting, a ceremony was held to rename the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) school in honor of former LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King, who recently stepped down to battle cancer. The school is now named Girls Academic Leadership Academy, Dr. Michelle King School for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. King was instrumental in convincing the state to allow LAUSD to have single-gender schools, and her three daughters attended the meeting and thanked the Board on her behalf.