LAUSD softens ‘disruptive person’ letters, but parents are still angry
Mike Szymanski | November 22, 2016
Disruptive Person Letters that can be used to keep certain people from school campuses are still being angrily criticized by some parents, despite LA Unified’s attempt at softening some of the language and adding appeals procedures.
A committee reviewing the policy on Tuesday spent nearly three hours discussing the issue with more than a dozen people speaking against the new revisions that LA Unified has been working on for more than half a year.
But because of the recent concerns of bullying on campus and the fears of federal authorities coming to the schools due to the Donald Trump administration threats, the school board fast-tracked revisions for the letters over the past two weeks. Previously known as “Disruptive Parents Letters,” the letters are now targeted at anyone who may come to campus to upset the educational atmosphere.
“But this gives principals superpowers,” protested Juan Mangandi, who sits on the Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee that held the hearing on Tuesday. “This tries to limit the voice of the parents. What is to prevent them from taking this privileged information and reporting it to immigration authorities? Who can assure me that won’t happen?”
Mangandi, who also serves as chairman of the District English Learner Advisory Committee, added, “This is a type of policy that is criminalizing parents. This is a stop-gap measure to stifle parents.”
Ref Rodriguez, the Early Childhood committee chairman and a school board member, said that although the district’s revisions aren’t perfect, it is a beginning, and he praised the staff’s work.
“This is still evolving, this is not perfect, but we need something in place today,” Rodriguez said. “The piece we have is of the best of intentions, but the community perceives this as parent suspensions and this policy exacerbates that lack of trust.”
Rodriguez and board members Scott Schmerelson and Monica Ratliff, who are also on the committee, met with district staff over the past two weeks to iron out language for the letters.
The letters not only require a specific detailing of the disruptive behavior, but also allow an appeals process that that goes to the principal and then to the local district director. The letters will be monitored by the iSTAR school incident monitoring system, and the letter must be reviewed every 90 school days.
“No principal wakes up in the morning with the mindset that they want to issue a disruptive letter to someone,” said Earl R. Perkins, associate superintendent for the Division of District Operations. He noted that in the second-largest school district in the country, only 31 letters were issued this year so far. Last year, 304 letters were issued.
Sandy Mendoza, who is on the committee and represents the community group Families in Schools, retorted, “No individual wakes up in the morning trying to get expelled from their child’s school either.”
Although all sides agreed that the amount of disruption is minimal, there are concerns from parents that principals have abused the use of the letters to keep people off campus.
Belinda Stith, of the office of general counsel for the school district, said she has seen parents bully each other to the point that they quit volunteering at schools.
“We have made the letter softer,” Stith said. Now there are procedures to appeal the letter, and a procedure to review the letter, with a process that is explained in the letter.
Kathy Kantner of the Community Advisory Committee said the changes were “moving in the right direction” and pointed out that some parents felt the letters have been abused and that access to schools has been controlled.
An activist parent who received three of the disruptive person letters, Mary Daisy Ortiz, said the letters are embarrassing and are used to pit parents against other parents.
“There are many injustices done with these letters,” said Ortiz, who contacted police after an incident last May.
Perkins brought three principals to testify to the committee about the importance of the letters and how rarely they are used. Assistant Principal Martin Segura of Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City said he has three daughters in the school system, has worked in the district for 28 years and has had to witness some parents acting inappropriately on campus.
“We are not trying to criminalize any parents, we are trying to be positive, but we need to deal with those who repeatedly do not want to follow school policies,” Segura said.
He said he wants to know if anyone who was a convicted sex offender is on his campus and cited Megan’s Law. But he pointed out that some parents have children in the schools and may come onto campus.
Also critiquing the revisions in the letters, Araceli Simeon, of the Parent Organization Network, said, “It still needs to be refined. This is unlikely to produce different results than what we are having.”
Simeon said that the letters have prevented some parents from coming to the school to see their child in school performances or play on sports teams. And the letters shouldn’t prevent parents from dropping off or picking up their child.
Carl Peterson, a candidate running for school board and a parent, said he asked for a public records request of the number of disruptive parent letters and received redacted notices of 486 emails involving them. “There is no specific data for these letters,” he said.
Peterson spoke of a parent at an affiliated charter school who received a disruptive parent letter because she asked too many questions about whether the school was following proper procedures and complying with the Brown Act.
Another parent, Carmen Sanchez, broke down in tears and said, “I am feeling angry.”
She spoke of getting a letter and being removed from campus by school police in front of her daughter. “This is not helping with parent participation, it is very sad.”