tps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilKP9H1DuoU&t=1s">It was a no-brainer. They had to move and we moved them."
- Scott Schmerelson
Five years ago, the effects of decades of negligence by the Southern California Gas Company came to a head as a corroded pipe sprung a leak at the Aliso Canyon storage field. Concerned neighbors noticed a foul smell but were told that there was nothing wrong. This cover-up lasted for "months" as people in the area "were left in the dark" as the utility company refused to offer a comprehensive explanation about what was going on at the site.
In the months that it took to cap the leak, more than 100,000 tons of methane leaked from the site, doing untold damage to our atmosphere. Thousands of residents had to be temporarily located as they fled immediate negative health effects and unknown long term damage. In schools near the site, "about 50 children per day saw school nurses for severe nosebleeds."
As the crisis unfolded, most local politicians towed the gas company's official line that there was nothing to be concerned about. Calls to the area's Los Angeles County Supervisor at the time, Michael Antonovich (who is now a Marilyn Koziatek endorser), were reported to have been returned by utility officials. The City Councilman for the area, Mitch Englander, and his Chief of Staff, John Lee, were also unresponsive to calls for help and instead denied that the leak posed any significant health risks to the constituents that they were supposed to represent.
One noticeable exception was the newly elected LAUSD School Board member Scott Schmerelson. Taking his commitment to his constituents seriously, he attended listening sessions with the public while other officials were noticeably absent. When these sessions provided evidence that students who attended two of the elementary schools in the area were not safe, Schmerelson lept into action and made sure that these students were relocated to different campuses.
Understanding that many of these students also lived in the area and were already under stress from the trauma that they were experiencing, Schmerelson made sure that these relocations were made with as little disruption as possible. Not only were classes kept intact, but the furniture from their classrooms was also moved as well. When students returned after winter break, they may have been in a different classroom, but they were sitting at their same desk. As Schmerelson notes, one student told him that they knew it was the same desk because the bubble gum they placed under the desk was still there.
Having met many of the people who worked under Schmerelson during his time as an administrator, it was no surprise that he would go through such extremes to ensure that students were disrupted as little as possible. Person after person expressed to me what a caring person he is and that he would always stand up for his students, staff, and teachers.
These real-life testimonials are completely at odds with the caricature that has been presented by the flyers in your mailbox. Schmerelson is a kind person who is completely undeserving of these vile personal attacks. He is a lifetime educator who has dedicated his life to the service of others. As shown with the response to the Porter Ranch Blowout, he has provided the leadership our students deserve. Our students deserve having Schmerelson on the LAUSD School Board for another term.
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.