LAUSD charter division looking into complaints brought by former school board candidate
Mike Szymanski | June 28, 2017
LA Unified’s charter school oversight division has confirmed it will look into complaints about three independent charter high schools made by a parent whose daughter attends one of the schools and who ran for school board this spring.
The charter division confirmed Tuesday that staff is looking into the complaints and will report back to the school board, likely at the September meeting.
Carl Petersen, who twice ran unsuccessfully for school board and opposed Mónica García this spring, spoke during public comment earlier this month before a closed session of the school board about the schools. One of the issues Petersen brought up includes what he calls “public shaming” of families by one school’s website that posts the number of hours families volunteered for the school. He also pointed out policies at two other schools which he said make it harder for homeless and special needs students to enroll because of documents the charters requested in applications.
Petersen said the Alliance Collins Family College-Ready High School in Huntington Park posts on its school website a list of student names and how many hours their families have volunteered for the school. Requiring parents to volunteer is a violation of district rules and state laws, but posting volunteer hours is not.
The charter school’s renewal that was approved in 2014 by LA Unified noted that they ask families for 20 volunteer hours each year and that “all parents are encouraged to volunteer, but it is not mandated” in accordance with state law. Petersen said that tracking the hours and posting them is where the school is “not in full compliance with the law.”
But Catherine Suitor, the chief development officer of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, said that characterization is wrong. “We see it as completely opposite of shaming. It is a way to recognize and congratulate those who are involved,” said Suitor, who said that the volunteer time is never considered mandatory and that the school follows district policies.
Suitor pointed out that research shows how parent involvement increases student learning. “Our parents are eager and welcomed to be involved,” said Suitor, who said that parents helping students with homework, taking them to museums and libraries and other such personal help are included as “volunteer” time. “Encouraging parents to be involved should not be seen as a negative thing.”
Petersen won the support of local civic groups such as the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and the North Valley Democratic Club in expressing “concern about the enrollment practices” of Granada Hills Charter High School, where his daughter attends, and El Camino Real Charter High because of what Petersen said are excessive documents that accompany applications. He said that has resulted in Granada Hills not having any homeless students and fewer low-income, special needs, and English learner students.
Petersen noted that on Granada Hills Charter’s website (which has since been taken down but Petersen saved on his website) the enrollment application included requirements for birth certificates, water and gas bills, report cards, and a student’s Individualized Education Program, which he said could discourage homeless families or students with special needs from applying. The El Camino Real Charter High School enrollment application includes property tax payments with pay stubs, voter registration, transcripts, and IEP paperwork.
According to the LA Unified’s regulations: “Charter schools are required to adhere to the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as provided to other children and youths.”
Granada Hills has posted new enrollment procedures with a specific link to deal with homeless and foster youth. In a March letter, Brian Bauer, the school’s executive director, said the school’s policies were not in violation of state or district policies, and Petersen said he has appealed to the state Board of Education. The California Charter Schools Association had no comment about Petersen’s complaints.
Charter schools are public schools that are open to all students, and when more students apply than can be accommodated, admission is granted by lottery. LA Unified’s charter division monitors application and enrollment processes and checks that the schools maintain equitable ethnic and demographic enrollments, including English learner and special needs populations.
José Cole-Gutiérrez, the director of the district’s charter division, said that in the past five years the charter division has closely monitored the independent charter schools’ enrollment processes and checks websites for policy violations. He said five years ago, the staff identified 80 corrections that needed to be made. Last year there were only three.
“There has been a lot of clean-up and we have had great oversight and greater parity than a few years ago,” Cole-Gutiérrez said. “We will follow up on these specific cases.”