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Sacrificing Special Education

With a Board majority at stake, families are told that now isn’t the time to confront a large, complicated, and often unyielding bureaucracy.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
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My journey began with these girls.

Scott’s priorities and accomplishments include…improving the process for parent participation in the IEP process for children with special needs

– Scott Schmerelson’s 2020 campaign

In the most recent edition of my Candidate Forum series, I asked those competing for a seat on the LAUSD School Board to take on the subject of Special Education. Of the 23 candidates running district-wide, only five responded. For those in the Special Education community, this lack of participation is not surprising as our representatives on the Board do not seem to understand the issues our families face and how adversarial the system has become.

While the eight years Scott Schmerelson has spent on the School Board, in addition to his professional experience as a teacher and a school administrator, should have put him in the best position to answer these questions confidently, the incumbent Board Member has not yet participated. Of the eight BD3 candidates who hope to appear on the March 5, 2024, ballot only Andreas Farmakalidis and Richard Ramos shared their opinions with the electorate.

My family is residents of BD 3 and Schmerelson is our Board Member. I have known him personally since we both ran against former Board Member Tamar Galatzan in 2015. When he came in second during the primary and forced the incumbent into a runoff I endorsed his candidacy and actively campaigned for him. When Schmerelson had an anti-Semitic campaign lodged against him in 2020, I once again fought by his side and helped him to secure reelection. I anticipated doing the same in 2024, his last election before riding into the imposed term limit sunset. However, several events in the past few months have me rethinking that path.

Foremost on my mind is the announcement by Schmerelson's chief of staff that the Board Member will not pursue passage of the "Improving Special Education in the LAUSD" resolution that I have proposed. While he has since walked back that position, Schmerelson still maintains that he will abide by the newly instituted process where Board Members "submit resolutions to the Superintendent's team so they can research it and see if it is something that we can implement." Apparently, the elected Board has given the unelected Superintendent veto power over policymaking, abdicating responsibilities that are part of their job description.

What makes this situation particularly frustrating is that the actions of the bureaucracy headed by Superintendent Carvalho created the need for this resolution. To now put them in charge of fixing these problems seems like a recipe for inaction.

I have made it clear to Board Member Schmerelson that, while I am willing to work with him to fine-tune the resolution, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. If he cannot commit to a path forward for some type of reform to the way the LAUSD is approaching how Special Education services are delivered, then I will be unable to support his reelection efforts.

A decision to withhold support for the incumbent is made more complicated by the fact that only two of his competitors were willing to answer my Special Education questionnaire. While Farmakalidis' answers were long, they did not show a deep understanding of the issues faced by families navigating the Special Education system. This combined with his support of charter schools, which cause inflated Special Education costs within the District, makes it impossible for me to support him. Ramos’ answers were more promising and took full advantage of an LAUSD principal who knows the pitfalls of the system. I would be eager to hear the views of the other candidates.

My efforts to put pressure on the incumbent Board Member to stand up for the Special Education community have been undermined by activists and organizations that I respect and usually align with. While many of them have supported the proposed resolution in the past, they are willing to look past his inaction as they fear that criticizing him during an election campaign will possibly jeopardize his chances of winning and, therefore, result in a loss of the pro-public education majority. The group Parents Supporting Teachers has even blocked the article about Schmerelson’s statement from appearing on its Facebook page depriving their over 27,000 supporters of the opportunity to take direct action and lobby the Board Member so that he can earn their vote in March.

While I appreciate Schmerelson’s recent willingness to start working out solutions to the issues that I have outlined in my proposed resolution, the District’s most vulnerable students need immediate action. In the years that I have been trying to get these reforms enacted schools have been starved of students and options for students have been taken away. The damage done by these actions has harmed the students that Board Members have sworn to protect.

Supporting Public Education includes supporting Special Education and I will not support any School Board candidate who refuses to recognize the need for immediate action. Our kids cannot wait any longer.

____________________________

As the fight continues to have the Board adopt the proposed “Improving Special Education Within The LAUSD” resolution, you can show your support by signing this petition. Scott Schmerelson’s office can also be reached directly with the following contact information:

  • Phone: (213) 241-8333
  • Email: [email protected]

____________________________

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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