Doubling Down On Excluding Parents
The newly crowned LAUSD Board President’s reasons for not reinstating the Parent Engagement and Special Education Committees are full of holes.
“Children with disabilities in particular have been heavily impacted by the shift to distance learning and the physical closure of our campuses.”
- LAUSD Board President Kelly Gonez
It took less than 24 hours for the new Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board President, Kelly Gonez, to throw her predecessor under the bus. When asked at a meeting of the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to reconsider her decision at the previous day’s board meeting to turn down Board Member Scott Schmerelson’s request to reinstate the Parent Engagement and Special Education committees, Gonez emphasized in her reply that it was former Board President Richard Vladovic who had initially suspended all of the board committees. She went on to say that “unfortunately, my predecessor did not agendize a conversation on special education or parent engagement” during his tenure, but this would be one of her first actions as Board President.
As the chaos of the pandemic descended upon the LAUSD last March resulting in the hasty transition to distance learning, Vladovic suspended committee meetings along with regularly scheduled board meetings. Unable to safely meet in person, the district, along with every other public entity in California, had to figure out how to use technology to fill the gap while still complying with the state’s open meeting laws. The first regular meeting of the board after the facilities shutdown did not occur until May 19, 2020.
Spring turned into summer and the board meetings fell back into a more routine schedule as life in a pandemic became the new normal. Many of the district’s students continued to struggle with distance learning, especially those with special education needs. Parents also clamored for details about when a transition back to in-classroom learning might happen and how it would be accomplished. Committee meetings were the perfect venue to dive deeply into these issues and they could have been scheduled during the board’s annual meeting. Instead, Vladovic decided to maintain the suspension.
With the start of the board’s new term, the newly elected president would have a new opportunity to visit the issue at their annual meeting that was held on Tuesday. The possibility of reinstating the committees was made more unlikely with the election of Tanya Ortiz Franklin in November, which gave the board members supported by the charter school industry a majority on the board. The last time this group had control, convicted felon Ref Rodriguez eliminated the committees. With her election to the Presidency, Gonez followed in his footsteps.
In providing an explanation to the CAC for her decision, the new LAUSD Board President stated that district staff “have a lot of responsibilities on their plate at this time.” If the district’s bureaucrats were spending time interfacing with the public at committee meetings and answering questions from stakeholders, then this would interfere with their “core work of supporting the individual students and families that they serve.” Gonez believes that the “primary concern” at this point in the pandemic should be providing “direct support services to students and families.”
The heads of the Division of Special Education spend as much time providing direct services to students as the CEO of McDonald’s spends slinging hamburgers on the grill. As managers, their jobs are to ensure that services are provided as efficiently as possible. The only way that this can be accomplished is if they interface with those receiving these services, especially those who have complaints. Meetings of the Special Education committee would allow problems to be brought to their attention with the additional benefit of being able to discuss possible solutions with stakeholders on the committee. Rather than being a waste of valuable time for the district staff, attending these meetings would help them do their job better.
Gonez’s second reason for refusing to allow Schmerelson to chair a Special Education Committee is that she believes that “the entire board needs to be engaged in this work.” California’s open meeting laws prohibit more than three of the LAUSD Board Members from serving on any committees as this would constitute a majority of the full board and would, therefore, be classified as a meeting that was not properly noticed. Instead of authorizing an ongoing committee, she plans to place a discussion of special education at the January board meeting.
While having the entire board engaged in issues involving special education is a terrific idea, it is doubtful that much can be accomplished at a board meeting. These meetings are already marathon sessions, leaving no time for another in-depth conversation. Furthermore, there have already been many public complaints about the hoops that parents must jump through to speak before the board about issues of concern. Adding a complex conversation about parent engagement or special education will extend the length of these meetings and will mean that even more stakeholders will want to participate. How will a system that is already broken handle these new demands?
The idea of having the full board discuss special education issues and holding committee meetings should not be considered to be mutually exclusive of each other. If initial fact-finding and discussion was delegated to the committee, a report could be delivered to the full board that would provide a jumping-off point for productive discussions by them. To ensure that all board members were fully immersed in the issue, membership in the committee could be rotated with two different members joining Schmerelson at each meeting. This would be most beneficial to Board Member Monica Garcia, who considers children with special education needs separate from “our kids” and Nick Melvoin who thinks that these children can be pushed aside with little notice.
A request was made at the end of the CAC meeting to include a motion on next month’s agenda asking for the Special Education committee to be reinstated. While Gonez seemed to be holding firm on her decision to keep both the Special Education and Parent Engagement committees silent, she did waiver a bit by saying that she intended to discuss the issue with the other board members. It is, therefore, imperative that board members continue to hear from community members who would like to see both of these committees reinstated.
- Board District 1: (213) 241–6382 George.McKenna@lausd.net
- Board District 2: (213) 241–6180 Monica.Garcia@lausd.net
- Board District 3: 213–241–8333 Scott.Schmerelson@lausd.net
- Board District 4: (213) 241–6387 Nick.Melvoin@lausd.net
- Board District 5: (213) 241–5555 Jackie.Goldberg@lausd.net
- Board District 6: (213) 241–6388 Kelly.Gonez@lausd.net
- Board District 7: (213) 241–6385 Tanya.Franklin@lausd.net
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.