"I felt ignored and not taken seriously." - Parent at Marvin Elementary
When parents send their children to school, they should not be "worried for [their] safety." If they confront a principal with these concerns, they should be listened to and made to feel like the issues raised will be addressed. For the school's leader to "shut the door in [their] faces" or for parents to be otherwise "ignored" is unacceptable.
Parents at Marvin Elementary are making serious allegations about incidents at their school and how the principal handled them. One states that their child "was stabbed with a pencil directly by the eye while being verbally threatened." Another alleges that "while on the playground" their child has "been called names like the N-word several times and told to go back to the 1800s". A flier distributed by parents says that "there was a gun threat by a student who said he would bring a gun to school".
Parents who have tried to resolve these issues say that their efforts were rebuffed by the principal of the school, local district staff, and their school board member. Wanting authorities to "pay more attention to [their] children's pleas for help", they organized protests and called a press conference. A parent rep who is paid by the LAUSD is accused of grabbing fliers out of the hands of parents. The principal is alleged to have let it be known that there would "be consequences for their protesting." The parent who organized the press conference says that they were called directly and asked not to hold it. Notably, these parents say that the principal has still not begun a meaningful conversation with them.
When asked about an alleged plan by the principal to send some teachers to the press conference in order to provide a counter-narrative, an LAUSD spokesperson said that "Marvin Ave. Elementary School hosted its annual International Day event. This event is planned annually, many months in advance." They also provided the following statement:
Marvin Avenue Elementary School's International Day Showcase celebrated the life and passing of Ms. Romo, a beloved teacher, and former Marvin Avenue student. The entire Marvin Avenue school community stands firmly against school bullying, and we work proactively every day to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students. In addition, the Marvin Avenue principal holds regular parent meetings where parent voices and parent concerns are welcomed, valued, and addressed. The Marvin Avenue team will continue to work with the community to root out any school bullying so that students can reach their highest potential in the safest possible environment.
This response shows a major disconnect with what was happening on the ground. First, to use an event meant to celebrate the life of "a beloved teacher" as a cover for activities meant to silence parents shows that something is broken in the moral compass of the person who authorized this statement. The statement does not address the appropriateness of using teachers to provide a counter-narrative at a time when they are supposed to be supervising students. Nor does it speak to the specific complaints lodged by the parents. Whatever the district thinks is happening at the school site, the perception of the parents holding the protests is that their concerns are not being welcomed, valued, or addressed. The LAUSD's bureaucracy does not recognize this fact and this sends up a giant red flag that the district is not adequately engaging with parents.
The situation at Marvin is not isolated. Local District West seems to have a particular problem engaging with the community, especially since Nick Melvoin became a board member. These are just some of the problems that public school families have faced in the past three years:
- Without any warning to the community, LD West announces that CTC West, a school for students with severe special education needs, will be moved from the campus of Fairfax High School to make room for an exclusive new middle school proposed by Nick Melvoin. The community fought back and the decision was eventually reversed.
- Parents at Pio Pico were told in January that their neighborhood school would be closed at the end of this school year to make room for GALA, a vanity district project where 45.5% of the students are classified as being socioeconomically disadvantaged. Pio Pico serves a population where 97.3% of the students are socioeconomically disadvantaged. The community continues to fight back but so far has only been able to delay the closure by a year. However, next year the school has been told they will not accept any new students.
Pio Pico recently had its infrastructure updated to meet ADA requirements and better serve the 17.1% of its student body that has disabilities. Only 4.9% of GALA students have special education needs.
In 2017 Smokey Robinson donated one million dollars in musical equipment to the students of Pio Pico. How will the district ensure that this donation will help the population it was intended for if this school is closed? Will generous celebrities like George Clooney, Dr. Dre, and Jimmy Iovine continue to donate to specific schools if they realize that the district can close these schools on a whim?
- After having their campus extensively remodeled, Orville Wright Steam and Gifted Magnet will be moved to a new school facility. In a plan crafted without any community input, the WISH charter school organization will take over the facility currently used by Wright. WISH was assessed $424,326.50 in state-mandated overallocation fees for taking more space than they were entitled to under PROP-39 and has not paid any of it. District records show that they still owe $153,773 after the Charter School Division reduced charter school debt by $7,678,022 without any explanation to the public.
With LAUSD public schools and charter schools fighting over a pool of students that is shrinking due to demographic shifts predicted since the late '90s, it is vital that the LAUSD engage in meaningful engagement with parents and ensure that their needs are met. Otherwise, parents will lose faith in their school leadership, their local district administration, and the LAUSD superintendent and look for other programs.
Perhaps that is the goal. By undermining parents' faith in the system, the bureaucrats in LD West can funnel even more students to a corrupt charter-school system. This will be devastating to the students whom the charter-school industry will not serve. It will, however, help charter schools get a Return On Investment for the $2,121,164.33 they recently spent to get Nick Melvoin re-elected against two opponents, Tracey Schroeder and Gentille Barkhordarian, who have not reported any campaign expenditures.
Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with special education needs and public education. He is an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and serves as the Education Chair. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him "a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.