When parents are labeled disruptive, should they get to appeal?
Mike Szymanski | June 8, 2016
A mother came to board member Monica Ratliff’s office in tears recently because her daughter was doing an end-of-year dance performance, but she thought she couldn’t attend because she got a “Disruptive Parent Letter” and was told she was banned from the school.
“She was told you’re not allowed on campus. I think the messaging is not necessarily consistent in terms of what the messaging actually is,” Ratliff said at the June 2 Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee meeting. “I want our schools safe and secure, but some parents get a Disruptive Parent Letter and that may not be the best way to handle an irate parent.”
Three leading parent groups involved with LA Unified are asking for an appeals process and better monitoring of the issuance of Disruptive Parent Letters, which are used to limit access to community members who have created chaotic situations at schools.
Over the past year, 304 letters have been issued to parents or guardians of children for creating disruptions at schools, according to the district. For the three years before that a total of 486 letters were issued, according to a public records request by parents. Part of the problem has been finding a central way of monitoring the letters, but now the district is using iSTAR Incident System Tracking Accountability Report and has a better way of tracking the data. The letters are in five languages: English, Spanish, Armenian, Chinese and Vietnamese.
“Is there a burst of letters [being issued] or is there a more robust data collection system?” asked Rachel Greene, chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Committee who also sits as an external representative on the board’s Early Childhood committee. “Some parents have contacted us because they were issued the letters and it was being done in the wrong way or possibly for the wrong reasons.”
Christopher Ortiz, director of School Operations, said the district has a legal right to issue the letters if the parent is not deprived of educational rights and has been disruptive, for example, by yelling obscene statements at school.
“The parent is not banned unless there is extremely egregious behavior or threatening, and generally we can make arrangements,” Ortiz said. Ultimately, with more than 1.5 million registered parents and guardians at LA Unified, only 304 Disruptive Parent Letters seems small, he said.
“It’s a very small number of letters if you look at it from a statistical lens,” Ortiz said. “But we can see where we can improve the process.”
Mary Daisy Ortiz, who is on the Parent Advisory Committee that is asking for a review of the letters, said through an interpreter, “If you want to study these letters, just ask me, I have plenty of these letters. Believe me, there are plenty of injustices being done to parents and students.”
Ortiz added that she thinks the letters are used to stifle parents who are outspoken and said, “Parents do not feel welcome at certain schools, so they go to charters where for the most part there is no parent involvement, but they produce results.”
Diana Guillen, secretary of the District English Learner Advisory Committee, asked, “What does it mean to cause a problem in the school? It just means when I try to assert my rights, so I’m being disruptive. There should also be an accounting of the principals who issue those letters and abuse the privilege.”
In the only detailed data of the letters, the report shows more than one-third, or 117 letters, are issued in the West Local District while the fewest are issued in the Northwest Local District, where there were only 21 letters sent out over the last year.
“I would like to see what the situations were with the 40 that were issued in my area,” Ratliff said. “Screaming in the main office is a problem, and there are some concerns for the safety of students, but it makes me wonder what these incidents were like.”
Ratliff added, “People get frustrated and act inappropriately but that shouldn’t always trigger a Disruptive Parent Letter.”
Ratliff was also concerned that there is no appeals process. She said, “It’s problematic that they do not have an appeal, where do they go?”
Ortiz, from the district office handling the letters, said, “We’re not under an obligation as a district to provide an appeals process.” He did, however, say that his office would look into the feasibility of appeals to the letters.
Katrina Campbell of the district’s Office of General Counsel said, “It’s usually a series of incidents and a last resort when the letter is issued for disruptive behavior.” She said there are provisions in the state Educational Code and the penal code that allow restrictions to campus, and most administrators call the district’s attorneys before issuing a letter.
“We try to resolve the matter first and get the parent to understand that the parent is being disruptive to the school environment and that the letter is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Campbell said. “Some teachers resort to police to control the parent.”
The letters do not restrict access to the school, but ask that the parent call the principal to let them know they are coming to the school, so the school could contact school police if necessary, Campbell said.
But there’s concern about misuse of the policy. Lester Garcia, of SEIU Local 99, said, “This should be used as a shield, not a sword, there’s a big difference. We need to look at the schools or administrators that are overusing these.”
Juan Mangandi of the District English Learner Advisory Committee said, “This tries to limit the voice of the parents.”
As a parent, Greene said, “I am aware of a situation at a school where I was glad to hear that—however it was done—that person wasn’t going to continue to be around again.”
But she said that an appeals process would be fair to those who get the letters. “It is a good sign that it is a relatively small number, but within this there is group of parents who feel the opposite it being a welcoming environment.”
The parent recommendations will be brought to the superintendent’s office and the full school board at a future meeting for discussion and a possible vote.