In tearful testimony before the LAUSD Board, more than a dozen Speak UP parents from Pacific Blvd. elementary school and the Alexander Science Center school pleaded with LAUSD to fundamentally alter its relationship with district parents.
“I am begging LAUSD’s new superintendent to please overhaul the way LAUSD engages with parents,” said Jennifer Redekopp, a parent whose kids attended the Science Center school for five years. “Talk to us, work with us, hear what we have to say. Treat us as partners, not enemies. And as you consider changes, please include us at the start. Don’t just inform us later what you’re doing and call it parent engagement. Without big change, more of us will continue to leave.”
Redekopp said an administrator at her school called police on parents when they created a flyer to inform parents that LAUSD had eliminated the sibling admission priority.
“A teacher at the school for whom I volunteered to assist struggling students told me she couldn’t believe how I was characterized – as a troublemaker -- during an emergency staff meeting that followed,” she said. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that this episode is just one story in a pattern of indifference and hostility to parent partnership at LAUSD. Since then, I’ve heard from many other parents, teachers, and staff who feel scared to speak up about this hostile behavior.”
Matilde Bernadino also spoke up about similar disrespect toward parents at the Science Center, an affiliated charter. Specifically, she felt she and her son were harassed after she asked the school to assess her son for a learning disability.
“They kept insisting it was a big, big expense to the district to assess my child,” she said. “They told me if I continued to push for an assessment and there were no problems with him, I would then have to take my child to our resident school.”
Bernadino had been volunteering at the school for four years, but after her son was assessed, she said administrators kicked her out of the school and refused to allow her to volunteer. “I was taken out as if I were a criminal, when I was just cutting paper,” she said. “What hurt the most is she did it in front of my kids…I was crying and my kids were asking me, ‘momma, what did you do wrong? Why were you kicked out?’”
Bernadino also pleaded with the district to listen to and address parents’ concerns rather than getting defensive. “Sometimes we don’t come here to complain because we’re intimidated,” she said. “We’re afraid of being harassed.”
Speak UP’s Sheyla Menzie, another a parent at the Science Center, said she faced retaliation after speaking up at the Board a few months ago. “This needs to change,” she said. “And I hope the new superintendent brings a new attitude toward parents to the job. So far I have stuck with LAUSD…I do not want to move to a charter school, but I need to see change.”
Parent Anna Parks, also from the Science Center, recounted multiple episodes in which parents at the school were treated with disrespect and indifference. “The parents of South LA have immense talent and resources to share, but they are undermined, marginalized and driven away to charter schools by the current district leadership culture,” she said. “The good news is, this doesn’t cost any money to solve. Politeness can be exercised for free.”
About 10 parents of kids with severe special needs from Pacific Blvd. also gathered to ask the Board to reconsider closing the upper grades of the school, which formerly served kids until age 22 but now sends them to general population schools after 5th grade.
Ada Amaya, the parent of a 19-year-old son with cerebral paralysis, said that without Pacific Blvd., many parents would have no choice but to homeschool their kids.
“The problem is, parents are not being offered comparable programs for middle and high school to serve our kids with severe special needs,” she said. “The District says regular district middle schools are ready to receive these children, but that’s not so. The teachers don’t know how to help our children. They don’t have the staff or the needed facilities. Some of the teachers in regular schools have locked out children in the bathroom to feed them by tube. My question is, how will they support children who need oxygen, who can’t eat on their own or need a diaper change?”
She questioned why LAUSD did not clearly communicate to parents what was happening and why. And she asked the district to reconsider. “One size fits all, especially for special needs, is not the solution. Why isn’t anyone at LAUSD listening to us? Please, I repeat, please help us.”