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School Board Candidate (Placed?) On Leave

Facing a lawsuit from a former student and new allegations about the funding of her campaign, Graciela Ortiz steps away from her LAUSD job.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 5 months ago 5 min read
Graciela Ortiz from her campaign website

“the plaintiff’s unfortunate occurrence, happened almost a year after my March 2020 campaign ended, showing even further that this is a frivolous, politically driven lawsuit.” (emphasis mine)

– Graciela Ortiz

Parents in LAUSD’s Board District 5 know how a public official’s corruption can affect them personally. In 2019, the elected representative for BD5, Ref Rodriguez was forced to resign after pleading guilty to felony charges related to his campaign, leaving this portion of the District without representation. The time that this seat was left empty was extended when the Board Members who had been elected with help from the Charter School Industry blocked the appointment of Jackie Goldberg as a temporary representative until a special election could be held. They held the seat empty even after Goldberg won 48.18% of the votes in the Special Election, 11,594 more votes than her closest competitor and 11,625 more than Graciela Ortiz. These decisions had real-world consequences when the Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC) charter school chain decided to close one of their schools just days into the school year leaving parents without a Board Member to turn to for help.

Rodriguez had gotten himself into trouble when he reimbursed janitors at the PUC charter schools after they donated the maximum amount possible to his campaign. This money laundering violated campaign laws because it disguised the true source of the donations from the voters and violated campaign laws.

Unbelievably, one of the candidates attempting to replace the retiring Jackie Goldberg in the March 5th primary has found herself being accused of possibly committing a similar type of voter fraud. As detailed in a CitiWatch article, three donors to Graciela Ortiz’s campaign listed their professions as “dishwashers.” All gave the maximum donation of $1,300, raising suspicions that the money was provided by someone else. Like Ref Rodriguez, Ortiz is backed by the Charter School Industry.

This is not the only question being raised about donations to Ortiz’s campaign. At least five of the donors listed on the City of Los Angeles Ethics Site are LAUSD employees who report to her. Were these donations, all made within a day of each other, made because they were supportive of her elevation to the School Board or to influence decisions regarding their employment? Did Ortiz pressure her employees in any way to make them?

These questions are raised against news that Ortiz is being sued by a former student claiming that her sexual assault was facilitated by the former school counselor’s “negligent hiring, supervision, and retention” of her assailant. This included the allegation that Ortiz directed students from the school where she worked into her political operations.

After receiving a report that Ortiz was being placed on paid leave by the district while complaints against her were investigated, I once again sent an email to the candidate asking for comment:

I have received a report that you have been placed in "Teachers' Jail" but will spin this as having taken leave to concentrate on your campaign. If you would like to comment on this or the lawsuit that has been filed against you, I will include your response in my new article.

This second attempt at reaching out to the candidate was (sort of) successful. While the East Area Progressive Democrats has confirmed in an email to their supporters that “Graciela Ortiz…has been placed on administrative leave at her day job as a pupil services and attendance supervisor at the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD),” Ortiz did not address this part of my question. She did, however, respond to the lawsuit.

While crisis management experts would probably recommend addressing the harm done to the victim up front, Ortiz’s statement uses her first sentence to make the unsubstantiated claim that she is the “leading candidate for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board” and then calls the charges against her “frivolous” and “politically driven.” She never directly addresses the victim, whose assailant was convicted in a court of law, but in the fourth sentence Ortiz finally “unequivocally [denounces] the victimization and abuse of against any individual in our communities.” The assault on a minor at gunpoint is referred to as an “unfortunate occurrence.”

Ortiz does state that she has “never allowed or condoned the type of abuse described and we [sic] had absolutely no knowledge or involvement. This seems to confirm the allegation that she was negligent in the supervision of minor children who volunteered or worked on the campaign. The suit accuses her of a failure to perform background checks on someone with direct access to children, not being directly involved in the assault.

She also states that she “was never in-charge of youth recruitment for our campaigns as those were the duties of others in the campaign.” These words seem carefully chosen as not heading these efforts did not preclude her from participating and does not disprove the allegation that the victim was recruited by Ortiz at the school she attended.

Ortiz’s full statement, exactly as received is as follows:

GRACIELA ORTIZ RESPONDS TO POLITICALLY MOTIVATED, FRIVOLOUS LAWSUIT

Graciela Ortiz, a current Huntington Park Councilmember and leading candidate for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board has responded to the attorney who has filed a frivolous, politically driven lawsuit filed by an anonymous party.

The attorney for Ortiz has demanded a complete dismissal of this “politically motivated, frivolous and misguided piece of litigation.” The demand to Mr. Scully goes on to clarify that the allegations in the lawsuit are false, inaccurate and without legal authority.

In a statement Ortiz stated “I unequivocally denounce the victimization and abuse against any individual in our communities. This is clearly a politically driven attack, and we are disgusted that malicious actors are taking the trauma of this victim and weaponizing it for their own gain. I have hosted thousands of volunteers in my years of community work and have never allowed or condoned the type of abuse described and we had absolutely no knowledge or involvement.

No one mentioned in the slanderous lawsuit has ever been an employee of any of my campaigns nor was the plaintiff ever a volunteer with my 2020 campaign. I was never in-charge of youth recruitment for our campaigns as those were the duties of others in the campaign. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s unfortunate occurrence, happened almost a year after my March 2020 campaign ended, showing even further that this is a frivolous, politically driven lawsuit. We look forward to clarifying these lies and holding those responsible, and anyone who uses this misinformation, accountable. This is nothing more than dirty politics at its lowest level."

Mr. Scully’s attempt to smear the reputation of Ortiz to these circumstances which occurred nearly three years ago is wrong and not legally authorized.

Fidencio Joel Gallardo, Karla Griego, and Victorio R. Gutierrez are also running in the LAUSD Board District 5 race.

____________________________

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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    Carl J. PetersenWritten by Carl J. Petersen

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