Whack-A-Mole: The Los Angeles Approach to Charter School Oversight
Our oversight is “proactive and responsive.”
- José Cole-Gutiérrez, LAUSD Charter School Division
Last June, I informed the LAUSD School Board that a charter school under their jurisdiction was violating the privacy of their students by publishing “Parent Volunteer Hours” reports on their website that included student names. The charter’s Chief Development Officer defended the practice by saying that even though the list included the names of students and not volunteers, it was “a way to recognize and congratulate those who are involved.” No mention was made of the obvious violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Clicking the link that used to provide access to the “Parent Volunteer Hours” reports now returns a “404 Page Not Found” error. It is reassuring that going forward the privacy of these students is no longer being violated. However, quietly removing this information from the website does not change the fact that the students’ privacy was already violated. It also leaves questions unanswered, including:
- The LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) has stated in the past that “We look at their websites, not only at that time but in their oversight.” Did they miss this violation or purposely overlook it?
- Why did the administration of the school not realize that their actions were a violation of federal law?
- Were parents notified that their children’s privacy had been violated?
- What steps have been taken to ensure that other charter schools are not engaging in the same practice?
Unfortunately, this is not the only example of problems at charters solely being corrected after they have been publicly exposed:
- El Camino Real Charter High School included a statement in its Enrollment Requirements that it “does not accept shared residences or room rentals” until I filed a complaint with the administration that included this violation of the education code. While their response maintained that their admission policies complied with the law, they also removed this requirement from their website.
- It was not until after I “informed CSD that based on provided [Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS)] bank statements, ‘emergency’ transfers totaling $1,035,00 were made out of the ASB account [money raised by and belonging to students] during ” that the District issued a Notice to Cure directing the school to “describe in detail any new processes or procedures that have been implemented by GHCHS to ensure that future payroll obligations are met without borrowing from the ASB account” and to “provide CSD a copy of the governing board meeting agenda and minutes that reflect the discussion of the action items stated above.” It does not appear that Granada ever complied with the latter requirement.
- Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC) Schools and the LAUSD are fighting over who should be responsible for the allegation that former PUC Treasurer Ref Rodriguez made “$265,000 in payments…to a nonprofit organization Partnerships for Developing Futures (PDF) and $20,400 in payments to Better 4 You Fundraising”, two organizations with which he has also been affiliated. The District claims that the allegations being currently raised by PUC “underlie the very concerns raised by the CSD to PUC through notices of concern, oversight and previous denials”, but they did not issue a Notice to Cure until October 23, 2017, over two years after Rodriguez left PUC to become an LAUSD Board Member. Unlike teachers who must sit in Teacher Jail while their cases are investigated, Rodriguez is still voting at LAUSD Board meetings and collecting his $125,000 a year salary.
Given the record number of charters within the LAUSD, it should not be surprising that the best taxpayers can expect is that the CSD plays Whack-A-Mole with violations instead of providing true proactive oversight. Still, the School Board adds additional charters to the system and renews old ones every month, sometimes over the recommendation of their staff. While their benefactors on the California Charter School Association will never allow it, the Board needs to heed the NAACP call for a moratorium on new charters until it can be assured that every charter authorized by the District is conforming with the law and properly serving its students.
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.