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Jefferson students recount the long waits and lost learning time

Craig Clough | October 15, 2014

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Jefferson High School student Jason Magaña speaks at the LA Unified school board meeting on Oct. 14, 2014. (Credit: Craig Clough)

Some students at Jefferson High School have been asked to do a lot of waiting this school year — waiting in an auditorium for days or weeks with no class work, waiting to get into the right classes, waiting to get enough classes.

Now, as they wait for the state and LA Unified to fix a myriad of problems at Jefferson, they waited patiently for three hours yesterday to tell the district school board their stories.

“At the beginning of the year, I went with hundreds of other students to the auditorium, waiting to be called up to get our classes,” Jason Magaña told the board. “At the beginning of the year, I was assigned to graphic design, even though I had taken and passed that class twice. I needed to be taking economics or government so I can complete the requirements to graduate and be eligible to get into college.”

Magaña said he did eventually get into an economics class four weeks into the semester and has found it difficult to catch up. He is also still assigned two home periods that he did not ask for and is done with school before noon several days a week.

“It is frustrating to me to be sent home early instead of being in challenging classes that will make me better prepared for college,” Magaña told the board.

Magaña is a plaintiff in the Cruz vs. California lawsuit that accuses the state of failing to provide students at nine California schools — including Jefferson —  a valuable education. As part of the lawsuit, a judge issued a temporary restraining order last week ordering the state to fix the problems the Jefferson students were there to talk about.

After hearing from the students and other officials about the Jefferson mess, the board approved the district’s $1.1 million plan to fix the school’s scheduling problems, get students into the right classes and get them caught up. The move came in response to the temporary restraining order.

While the story he ultimately told was heartbreaking, an admittedly nervous Armani Richards, Jefferson’s senior class president, got a laugh from the board when he uttered an audible “Oh, crap,” under his breath when he messed up his opening sentence.

Richards then told a similar tale of being sent to the auditorium to wait, being given a class he had already taken and being assigned home periods and “service” classes he did not ask for. Even worse, Armani said, his service class, which is supposed to give students administrative tasks, has no services for him to perform.

“My service class teacher tells me every day that he does not have anything for me to do,” Richards said. He also said he has been assigned a home period he did not ask for.

“It was pointless to go home. I wanted a real class, where I can learn something,” Richards said. “When I requested a class instead of a home period, I was given a class called College Class. In College Class, basically all I did was sit in an auditorium with other students.”

But even for a class that he does want and need, there are still challenges.

“Classes have gotten more and more crowded. There are 50 students in my AP English class and we have to literally race to our classes just to get a seat,” Richards said.

The board also heard from Jefferson student Bryan Rodriguez and Dorsey High School student Jordan Parx, both telling more stories of waiting, being given the wrong classes and not enough classes. Students from Dorsey are also part of the Cruz. vs. California lawsuit, although the temporary restraining order issued last week only applied to Jefferson.

When asked by LA School Report whom he and most of his friends blame for the problems — the board, the district, their administrators or their teachers — Magaña said it was the district they blame.

“Many feel that it is the district’s fault. I think they haven’t heard our voices and they need to do that,” he said.

Magaña also suggested to the board that maybe it was easy for some to marginalize Jefferson because it is in a economically challenged neighborhood.

“Some people think because Jefferson is in South Central [Los Angeles] we don’t care about school. But I care about my future and so do my classmates,” he said.

After the students spoke, several board members made some comments thanking the students for speaking up and vowing to fix the problems. Board Member Steve Zimmer mentioned that he had been a student teacher at Jefferson in 1992.

“I learned a lot at Jefferson, but most of what I learned was from the students, and their hopes and aspirations, potentials and abilities really changed the entire course of my life as I’m sure you guys have changed the lives of a lot of faculty,” Zimmer said. “So I guess I also just want to say thank to the students at Jefferson and the Jefferson community and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that we live up to your promises from here on forward.”

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