In Partnership with 74

Flavored milk, high-speed rail, a name change and more LAUSD board decisions

Mike Szymanski | October 20, 2016

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The school board wore their college logos.

It wasn’t all about charters at the 13 hours of meetings held Tuesday by the LA Unified School Board.

They also made decisions on possibly bringing flavored milk back to schools, encouraging more water access, discouraging a high-speed rail rumbling past some schools, a name change to a school with a titled deemed racist, plus more.

Other school board actions:

• LAUSD school board approves one new charter school and three renewals; those recommended for denial to be voted on later today

• Charter school scorecard: How the board voted Tuesday night

• A balanced job or ‘they want to kill our charters’? Debate rages after a day of tough charter decisions

Griffith Middle School

One of the easiest decisions came in a consent agenda item renaming the David Wark Griffith Middle School to simply Griffith Middle School. Parents and activists at the Eastside school of 1,400 followed a wave of the national trend of renaming schools last year and a 2015 summer petition pointed out that the filmmaker that the school was named after created “Birth of a Nation” which celebrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

This year a film of the same name was released but didn’t portray the Klan as heroes. According to a report by Superintendent Michelle King, the school was named in 1957 and “has a rich legacy of graduates, the students and staff, who after being educated about Mr. Griffith’s true history, were in favor of the name change.”

The district held multiple meetings and in June the parents voted. The final tally was 93 votes for D.W. Griffith Middle School, 110 votes for Felix Gutierrez Middle School and 1,220 votes for Griffith Middle School. In support of local school autonomy and the desire of the stakeholders, Griffith Middle School was the prevailing option, and that’s what the district recommended.

“We don’t want the school to be named after a filmmaker who glorified the Ku Klux Klan and espoused white supremacy, even if many of us didn’t know about the history,” said Rosalio Munoz, who pushed for the name change.

Most of the parents and students thought the school was named after the man who deeded Griffith Park to the city and had the observatory named after him. That was Col. Griffith J. Griffith, who is no relation to the filmmaker. So the school will use the name Griffith without anyone specified, and D.W. is removed.

Chocolate milk and water

The school board debated nearly an hour over a resolution brought by Monica Ratliff and Scott Schmerelson asking for a voluntary pilot program to reintroduce flavored milk to schools to get data for possibly opening it up to all schools again.

Five years ago the district stopped serving strawberry and chocolate flavored milk because of the high sugar content. Gabriella Charter School teacher Brent Walmsley, who formed an activist group called SugarWatch, spoke to the board and said, “I’m very very concerned that there is an additional 11 grams of sugar in flavored milk, added to the 11 grams already in milk and that alone is almost the total suggested amount of sugar that children should have.”

Walmsley applauded the district for trying to get children to drink more milk but said, “We don’t do this with any other food. We don’t serve caramel apples to get children to eat apples or serve chocolate strawberries for children to eat strawberries. Milk is getting this odd pass here.”

Student board member Karen Calderon said she and King met with 14 students, and 13 of them wanted flavored milk back. The one who objected thought that the district would be training students to avoid milk unless it was flavored. “What if you offered an apple or a doughnut, they will choose the doughnut,” she said.

stevezimmercollegedayschoolboard-1Ratliff said she was concerned that the district wastes a lot of milk and there is a great demand for water by students. As the second-largest school district in the country with a $100 million dairy contract, LA Unified is trying to use its clout to change federal regulations that require serving milk to every student. The school district also said that its milk supplier will work on low-sugar options of flavored milk.

“At every school I go to, I get requests for flavored milk,” Schmerelson said.

School board President Steve Zimmer added, “We should listen to the voice of the students, but I also believe that our future is in hydration stations and plant-based alternatives.”

The vote approved up to three schools in each of the seven districts to voluntarily ask to be part of the study.

High-speed rail

Ratliff, who is also running for City Council, said she heard many concerns about the high-speed rail going through her northeast San Fernando Valley area and coming within half a mile of Brainard Elementary School.

“This is important to me because it goes right by Brainard which has 174 students and is barely hanging in there to maintain a full program,” Ratliff said.

Cile Borman from the Lakeview Terrace Improvement Association said she was concerned that the high-speed rail plan would prevent access to open spaces for children and cut off access to parks.

Dave DiPinto of the Shadow Hills Property Owners association said they are not trying to kill the high-speed rail program but trying to eliminate it being above ground.

However, Ron Miller, representing building and trade unions, told the board members the project will create many new jobs for the area.

“The principal is trying really hard to preserve that school,” Ratliff said. “The impact it will have is significant and there’s concern about asthma and dust.”

Ratliff said the school district “has historically dragged its feet” about such issues and wanted a vote.

The resolution passed unanimously.

And the rest

The school board also approved passing the establishment of Horace Mann UCLA Community School with the idea that it will encourage neighborhood children to attend that public school and draw from charter, magnet and private schools in the area.

The board gave the school superintendent the authority to issue preliminary proposals of space and final officers of space to charter schools through Prop. 39 facilities requests. The idea is to make it easier for the superintendent to find locations for charter schools asking for empty spaces on district property.

Zimmer proposed a resolution celebrating Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month specifically noting that “Sikh boys and men are subjected to a disproportionately high rate of hate crimes, and Sikh boys suffer bullying at twice the national rate for other boys.”

Tuesday was College Awareness Day and the school board members and staff were encouraged to wear jerseys and caps from the universities and colleges they attended. Poly High School Principal Ari Bennett offered a presentation explaining how his school has succeeded in getting his students college-ready. The school’s average SAT score of 990 topped the district average of 964.

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