Kids First?

“[If there is a strike] these students’ health and safety would be in jeopardy. They could get hurt, hurt themselves, or hurt others.”
- Exhibit A in LAUSD Court Filing

With their teachers set to walk out of their classrooms, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) needs bodies. In order to get the upper hand in a strike, the District will need to keep their schools open and to do that they only need to meet one requirement — they must keep the adult to student ratio below legal limits. The students do not actually have to be learning anything, they just have to be in the school collecting ADA (Average Daily Attendance) revenue from the state.

Unfortunately for the LAUSD School Board, District officials have not been able to hire enough substitutes who are willing to cross the picket line. Therefore, they used a long-running complaint about the onerous process that parents face when offering to volunteer on campus to force a vote to make it easier to get bodies on campus during the strike. While the Board at first rejected the change, Superintendent Beutner convinced them to take another vote. Before they did, I made public comment on this issue:

Like Ms. Garcia just said, this has been an issue that has been talked about for years. Sitting in Board Meetings I have heard parents come and complain about how difficult it is to volunteer at a school. So yes, this is a very important subject that we need to take up. But boy does this timing seem really suspicious.

Right now you guys are going to take this up? Right before a strike? So you’re going to let people who haven’t been fingerprinted into our schools?

I understand that if it is one on one they have to be fingerprinted now. But without teachers in that school, there is going to be a lot of people doing one-on-one who are not supposed to be doing one-on-one.

I think we need to look at this after a potential strike and then take a look at how we can improve things. Because yes, we need to get parents and community more involved in our schools, but this is not the right time.

I would have thought that this School District would have learned its lessons from Miramonte and the millions of dollars that you guys have paid out in claims. This is one of the reasons why we are having financial problems is because you don’t think these policies through. How many kids are going to be harmed because you didn’t want to check volunteers because of a strike?

Now in your filing with the court, the district admits that our children are not going to be safe. I have two daughters in special education. Your paperwork says they are not going to be safe. That’s the words of the District. But you’re going to keep the schools open if the teachers go on strike?

Ever since the charter majority took over it has been “Kids First” on all the paperwork. But when are we going to start putting kids first? First, you appointed a president who was under investigation. Then nobody stepped up and said “you need to go” when he got arrested for public drunkenness. Then you hired a Superintendent without any education experience. Now the teachers are going to go on strike.

Kids first, when does that start?

Board Member Scott Schmerelson followed up public comment by presenting data that showed how the proposed policy would endanger children. “There are in our communities, registered sex offenders: 56,110 on the web site. But, 21,602 registered offenders are excused [from] being listed for a variety of reasons, and [these] may not relate to the risk of recidivism. So 21,602 people who are sexual predators are not on the list.” These potential risks will not be flagged to school personnel without the fingerprinting check. Unfortunately, Schmerelson was the only vote against the policy.

When his colleague, Nick Melvoin, took his turn to speak it seemed at first that he would insist on making sure that students would be adequately protected. While backing up my point about the Miramonte case by pointing out that “this District has spent over $300 million in the last few years settling cases of sexual abuse”, he drew a much different conclusion. Since the employees who had committed these crimes had “passed fingerprints and background checks and Megan’s law”, this was not relevant to changing the rules for volunteers. He urged the Board to continue the discussion in the future, but then voted to weaken protections already in place instead of strengthening them.

Even before this vote, the District had admitted that it could not keep all students safe if its teachers were to walk out. Has the Board now increased the danger by putting up a “help wanted” sign that is visible to every potential child abuser in the city?

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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.