"It is our democratically elected school board's responsibility to lead our school district through this crisis. Not the superintendent, district staff nor the teachers union."
- Mike Hutchinson
When Jackie Goldberg won the 2019 special election to replace convicted felon Ref Rodriguez on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board, it was supposed to return control to supporters of public education. This should have resulted in much-needed changes in the country's second-largest school district. Instead, the status-quo was basically unchanged when the charter-industry recaptured control in last November's election. Public schools were still losing much-needed space to their privately run counterparts, charters were not being held accountable for illegally cherry-picking their students, past-due bills owed to the district were still uncollected and a person with no professional education experience remained as the district's superintendent. As a group, the four board members whose campaigns had been financed by the teachers' union had lacked the will to fight for meaningful change.
As public school activists in Los Angeles were in the process of losing control in the November election, community activist Mike Hutchinson was in midst of his third campaign to become a member of the Oakland Unified School Board. Running on a platform that included ending the closure of schools, increasing community engagement, and building sustainable school communities, Hutchinson sought one of the four open seats on the board. He was strongly opposed by the charter school industry that between his three campaigns, spent over $1 million trying to keep him from taking a seat on the board. This time they were unsuccessful and three of their four candidates went down in defeat.
Last month, Hutchinson took his seat and immediately started fighting. Among his first actions was proposing a resolution seeking a "waiver of certain Proposition 39 obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic." This proposal notes that under various health agency recommendations, the physical reopening of schools will require "sufficient physical space within a classroom such that each student is at least six feet from all other students in the classroom" and that meeting these standards would require the district to "utilize significantly more classrooms." Given that this will be difficult to achieve if space is provided to charter schools under PROP-39, the superintendent would be directed "to seek, by whatever legal means available, a waiver or other appropriate action that would enable the District to forgo its obligations under Prop. 39 in order to ensure the health and safety of its students, families, and staff."
The public school community has been asking for similar action from the LAUSD Board for months. This includes the Northridge East and Harbor City neighborhood councils that both passed resolutions on behalf of their constituents asking "for a moratorium on new Proposition 39 co-locations or expansions until the COVID-19 crisis has passed." The Shirley Avenue Elementary School community has appealed not only to the district but to the charter school that occupies them, Citizens of the World, in an effort to stave off having to give up any more space when students physically return to school. All of these requests have fallen on deaf ears and a resolution like the one in Oakland has not been proposed locally.
At this point, Hutchinson says the passage of his resolution is far from certain. His board's president has sole authority to advance proposals and has, thus far, not shown interest in taking on the charter school industry in this matter. However, at least a line has been drawn in the sand that the public can rally around. This is what leadership looks like and is more than Los Angeles public school advocates currently have available.
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
- Barack Obama
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.