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Special Education, Charter School Delinquent Debt, and the Computer Hack

Videos of the six candidates for the LAUSD BD3 race facing questioning from the Northridge East Neighborhood Council Education Committee.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished about a month ago 14 min read
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We have to stop muzzling parents with the nondisclosure agreements that we currently have.

– LAUSD BD3 Candidate Raquel Villalta

On Saturday, February 3, 2024, the candidates running to represent Board District 3 (BD3) on the LAUSD School Board were invited to attend the Northridge East Neighborhood Council Education Committee’s monthly meeting to introduce themselves to their potential constituents. Five of the six participated in person. Elizabeth Badger had a previous commitment out of state and was unable to attend. She did, however, respond to the questions in writing.

After being given two minutes for an opening statement, each candidate was given two minutes to answer each of the following questions:

  • The NENC has asked the LA City Council to support the passage of the proposed LAUSD resolution: Improving Special Education Within the LAUSD. As a Board Member, what would you do to support children with Special Education needs, particularly those whose disabilities are severe?
  • The NENC has expressed concern over charter schools' $3,708,006 unpaid balance for over-allocation fees. As a Board Member, how would you bring transparency to how space in public schools is allocated to charter schools?
  • In September 2022 it was revealed that the LAUSD's computer systems had been hacked. Despite assurances that personal information had not been released, later reports showed that sensitive information for some children had been disclosed. As a Board member, how would you ensure accountability for the failure to prevent the hack and for the missteps in the aftermath?

The candidates were then allowed one minute for a closing statement.

Dan Chang

Our students are stagnant

Fact-Checking:

I helped turn around at L.A. Unified’s most troubled high school, a school called Locke in Watts.

Chang was part of the Green Dot charter school chain that took control of Locke High School. The data shows the effort to “turn around” this school was mostly unsuccessful. In both 2015 and 2016, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) gave the school a statewide rank of one out of ten. When compared to resident and similar school medians at its last renewal, “Locke reclassified [English Learners] at a lower rate”, had “low graduation rates” during the previous three years, and had “a high disproportionality suspension rate for African Americans and Students with Disabilities.

I’m the only candidate with experience.

In addition to being a School Board Member since 2015, the incumbent in the race, Scott Schmerelson, has served the LAUSD since 1978 in multiple positions including teacher, counselor, and principal. He is not even the only current teacher in the race as Dr. Dam works at Granada Hills Charter High School. The other challengers bring a wide variety of experiences to the table.

Andreas Farmakalidis

Do you believe that our children are receiving the education they truly deserve?

Scott Mark Schmerelson

One of the things I am very much in favor of is making sure that our kids are moving towards inclusion in the GenEd class

Raquel Villalta

I Believe that our schools are failing.

Fact-Checking:

I had a wonderful experience until the District violated our constitutional rights and pulled out excellent teachers because of their religious beliefs.

No teacher was fired by LAUSD because of their religious beliefs. Villalta chose not to vaccinate against the COVID virus which was deemed a risk to children and families who are immunocompromised or otherwise medically fragile.

Elizabeth Badger

These are the answers that Badger provided, with only minor formatting adjustments:

Question 1: This issue is deeply personal to me. As a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum, I am fully aware, and have been a victim, of the abuses that takes place in LAUSD’s Special Needs Departments (i.e. not giving adequate services, not allowing parents to be involved or understand their child’s academic choices, taking away parents due-process by demanding signing of IEP immediately after meeting).

I will work to:

(1) Make the IEP system easier to understand by educating parents on their options. Create a brochure/template that will apprise parents of academic choices.

(2) Parents must be involved in every aspect of the IEP process, including being transparent by apprising them of ALL the services available that will benefit their child’s specific needs.

(3) Mandate that parents be allowed, should they opt, a “cooling-off” period before signing the IEP. This will allow them the time needed to review or gain outside counsel.

(4) Make sure the services are delivered on a timely and effective manner.

(5) Professional development is mandatory to guarantee that our children are/can receive a free, fair and appropriate education. Each professional must be updated on their specific disciplines, which certifies that they are capable to deliver the correct resources tailored to each child’s individual and specific needs.

Question 2: As a board member, it is important to ensure that ALL of our children (charter and public) receive a quality, safe, appropriate education. Where there is suitable space, we need to address these issues, with sensitivity, wide-ranging, smart and broad approaches. We should encourage open partnerships to shared facilities.

Develop transparent equitable system for distributing spaces based on the “real” needs of students. The ultimate responsibility, of a board member, is to ensure that each LAUSD child is allowed and able to meet their full educational potential. By creating safe and quality facilities, we create, for our children, a better educational system. I further believe, the boards main focus ought to be to expand and uplift our children’s academics, rather than pitting entities against each other based on space allocations.

Question 3: As a board member, addressing the LAUSD computer hack is paramount to ensure that there is accountability and that the failures that led to this hack cannot be repeated.

(1) To ensure transparency, I would recommend that an outside investigation be performed to ensure the initial vulnerability can be ascertained.

(2) If breach is determined to be in-house, work to apply appropriate discipline and corrective actions, up to and including legal remedies. If outside breach, work to fortify our system by upgrading with the highest and current technologies.

(3) Re-train all staff and outside contractors to ensure that accidental mistakes can be minimized/corrected.

(4) I would recommend that the board hire an outside cyber security

firm as overseers, to ensure oversight and the highest cyber education is implemented.

(5) Make sure that passcodes are updated on an annual basis, and that staff are advised how to report any suspected breaches.

(6) Evaluate and update policies and procedures in relations to data

protection/security annually.

(7) Most importantly, board members must adhere to the highest level of trust to the public. Unlike the hack in 2022, take immediate responsibility by apologizing and communicating to parents, staff and public the failures. Work to re-assure, parents, staff and public, that the board is working to correct the problems, will help minimize any injuries.

Janie Dam

I would definitely prioritize training teachers for social-emotional teaching.

Additional Questions:

The candidates were given the opportunity to provide written answers to questions that were submitted prior to the forum but not asked:

  • There are students attending school in the district who are either medically fragile or who have members of their family who are. Under what circumstances would you re-implement masking protocols? Do you agree that the science shows that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the spread of diseases?

Janie Dam:

Personally, I dislike masking and am grateful that the COVID-19 vaccine has been effective at protecting me and my children from infection, which frees me from the anxiety that either I will spread a fatal disease to others or run the risk of contracting a fatal disease from others when no one wears a mask.

I support religious and medical freedom. And my mantra is to set policies that bring about the most good for the largest number of people without detrimental harm to any individual person. Applying this mantra to your question, and assuming that the public health emergency is over and there is presently only a small number of medically fragile students and students with medically fragile family members in the district, I would suggest that the district makes the most protective and most comfortable brand of protective masks available free of charge to all medically fragile students and/or their medically fragile family members so they can mask up if they wish. If there is a preference for a certain type of mask, families should be able to submit valid receipts to the school’s administrative team and be reimbursed.

I think the district should also support this student population with the additional flexibility, or even a Section 504 plan, to attend online classes offered by the district and be excused from not attending school physically. I am opposed to polarizing political extremism coming from either side, and I support policies that patiently and respectfully accommodate the diversity in our district.

Andreas Farmakalidis

Re-implementing masking protocols in schools only for medically fragile students or those with vulnerable family members, would be advisable but not enforced during periods of increased community transmission of contagious diseases, such as during outbreaks. That's how it is and has been in almost every country in the world.

Regarding the safety and efficacy of most vaccines, yes, the scientific consensus overwhelmingly supports the notion that most vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the spread of diseases. This is generic for most vaccines.

Numerous studies and extensive clinical trials have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of most vaccines in controlling and preventing diseases.

Again this is generic. If you are referring to any specific vaccine please let me know

  • For Dan Chang: 1. Have you completed the induction program required to renew your credential? 2. If you win, will you resign as board president of Valley Charter Schools?

Dan Chang:

yes / yes

  • Would you consider opening up a credential fast track program to be able to hire returning teachers who do not qualify for intern or current emergency credentials but offer the benefit of experience and established love for ed and our students?

Janie Dam:

Yes. Your proposal would help to address the ongoing teacher shortage alongside recent related easing in our state’s teacher credentialing criteria. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) decided last December to offer teacher candidates who got close enough to passing their teaching performance assessment a chance to earn a preliminary credential without retaking the test. Beginning early 2024, teacher candidate who come within -1.0 standard error of measurement (about two or three points) of passing either the California Teaching Performance Assessment or the edTPA, can earn their credential if their preparation program faculty determines that they are prepared.

I support this decision because test scores analytics revealed that the majority of teacher candidates who failed performance assessments over the last five years were extremely close to passing. According to CCTC, had the newly adopted standard been used over the last couple of years, 2,000 of the 2,731 teacher candidates who failed cycle one of the CalTPA , 953 candidates of the 1,152 who didn’t pass cycle 2 of the CalTPA, and 360 of the 1,124 candidates who failed the edTPA would have passed the assessment, earned a credential and begun teaching to immediately help to relieve the teacher shortage.

The key here is to not lower professional standards but to open new pathways for candidates to demonstrate their readiness to begin teaching in the classroom.

Andreas Farmakalidis

Opening up a credential fast track program could be a valuable strategy for hiring returning teachers who may not qualify for intern or current emergency credentials but bring extensive experience and a passion for education and student success. Such a program could provide a pathway for experienced educators to re-enter the teaching profession, leveraging their skills and dedication to benefit students and schools.

By establishing clear criteria and guidelines for the fast track program, education authorities can ensure that returning teachers meet necessary standards of competency and professionalism while acknowledging the value of their previous experience. Additionally, providing support and resources for professional development and transition into the classroom can help returning teachers successfully reintegrate into the education system.

Overall, implementing a credential fast track program for returning teachers can contribute to addressing teacher shortages, promoting diversity and experience in the teaching workforce, and ultimately enhancing the quality of education for students.

In addition to a fast track program, there are several other solutions that could help reintegrate returning teachers into the education system:

1. **Residency Programs**: Implement residency programs where returning teachers can work alongside experienced educators to gain updated knowledge and skills while fulfilling credentialing requirements.

2. **Professional Development Opportunities**: Offer professional development courses and workshops specifically designed for returning teachers to refresh their teaching skills, learn about new methodologies, and understand updated curriculum standards.

3. **Mentorship Programs**: Establish mentorship programs where returning teachers are paired with experienced mentors who can provide guidance, support, and assistance as they transition back into the classroom.

4. **Alternative Pathways to Licensure**: Create alternative pathways to licensure that take into account the experience and expertise of returning teachers, allowing them to demonstrate their qualifications through portfolios, assessments, and performance evaluations.

5. **Return-to-Work Programs**: Develop return-to-work programs that provide returning teachers with part-time or temporary teaching positions initially, allowing them to ease back into the profession while completing any necessary requirements for full licensure.

6. **Flexible Credentialing Options**: Explore flexible credentialing options that take into account the unique circumstances and needs of returning teachers, such as offering credit for prior teaching experience or allowing for a phased approach to obtaining full licensure.

By implementing these additional solutions, educational institutions and policymakers can create more inclusive and supportive pathways for returning teachers to re-enter the workforce and continue making valuable contributions to the field of education.

NENC Education Committee may want to spearhead a coordination between LAUSD's STEAM Program and CSUN's new Autodesk Facility. How might you aid us in this endeavor?

Janie Dam:

That is wonderful! I am in CSUN’s adjunct professor/faculty supervisor pool and am currently the faculty advisor for a high school program sponsored by CSUN’s Center for Social and Technology Entrepreneurship. As a STEM high school coordinator and advocate for STEAM, I would be so thrilled to be of assistance to your LAUSD- CSUN Autodesk joint venture in the role of School Board member! The Autodesk Technology Engagement Center (ATEC) is indeed “a new beacon of innovation and transformation at CSUN” as a “state-of-the-art facility dedicated to bridging the equity gap in STEM education and inspiring underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).”

Andreas Farmakalidis

Firstly I would Establish a Communication Channel. What I mean is to Facilitate regular communication channels between key stakeholders from both LAUSD and CSUN. This could involve setting up meetings, establishing email correspondence, or utilizing collaboration platforms to ensure efficient communication and coordination.

Secondly I would Organize Joint Events and Workshops: Plan joint events, workshops, or seminars that bring together students, educators, and industry professionals from both LAUSD and CSUN. These events could feature hands-on activities, guest speakers, or demonstrations showcasing the intersection of STEAM education and industry expertise.

Then I would Explore Curriculum Integration. There are several opportunities to integrate CSUN's Autodesk Facility resources and expertise into LAUSD's STEAM Program curriculum. This could involve developing project-based learning modules, incorporating Autodesk software tools, or providing access to facilities and equipment for student projects.

This could also involve in creating pathways for LAUSD students to participate in internships, mentorship programs, or collaborative projects facilitated by CSUN's Facility. This could provide students with valuable hands-on experience, exposure to industry practices, and mentorship from professionals in the field.

Lastly and very important step is to seek funding and support. Explore opportunities for funding and support from government agencies, city council, rotary, chamber of commerce, private foundations, or industry partners to sustain and expand collaborative initiatives between LAUSD's STEAM Program and CSUN's Autodesk Facility.

By fostering collaboration and leveraging resources from both LAUSD and CSUN, we can create meaningful opportunities for students to engage with STEAM education and industry partnerships, ultimately enhancing their learning experiences and preparing them for future careers in STEM fields.

____________________________

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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