LA parent voice: ‘We want to have a voice,’ says a mom who showed up at LAUSD before dawn to make sure her community was represented
Esmeralda Fabián Romero | August 28, 2018
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Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)
Sara Martínez, an LA Unified mom living in the southeast boundaries of Board District 5, had to put everything aside for one day so her voice could be heard by the school board as they decided how to elect a new representative for her son’s school and community.
She didn’t have to ask for time off from a job because she cares full time for her 13-year-old son with autism, who takes classes online through LA Unified’s Carlson Home/Hospital School until Martinez is able to find a school placement. But she did have to hire a caregiver so she could go to the Aug. 21 board meeting.
But to ensure she could speak during public comment, Martínez arrived by 6 a.m. to line up outside LA Unified’s headquarters in downtown LA.
Parents or community members who want to address the full school board have to wait for the monthly board meetings and sign up that day to get one of the limited number of speaker slots, which allow the speaker three minutes during public comment. (If the person speaks another language and needs translation, they are allotted more time without a specific limit.) Those slots are secured on a first-come, first-served, in-person basis on the day of the meeting, so people have to line up early, even though the board meeting doesn’t start until 1 p.m.
At the August meeting, there were only seven speaking slots allotted for that particular board discussion on the district 5 seat, which is why some parents slept overnight on the sidewalk to be able to make sure they could speak that day. However, just before the meeting started, the district decided to grant more speaker slots and granted one to a former board member, Jackie Goldberg, who was being considered for an appointed board position. A spokeswoman said in an email that the district has a general policy of allowing public officials to address the board.
(The full district explanation of how speaker slots were allotted last week is at the bottom of this article.)
“Many parents couldn’t be here today,” Martínez said. “I was able to find someone to help me with my son, but other parents cannot just call their employers and say that they need to be at a meeting on Tuesday at 1 p.m. That’s why I am here, to speak on their behalf.”
Martinez said she has been meeting regularly at her home with about eight other parents or calling one another to keep themselves updated on who would be representing them after their board member, Ref Rodríguez, resigned in July after pleading guilty to money-laundering charges related to his 2015 election.
“I am here to say that we, parents of the southeast, want a special election to elect the person we want to represent us.”
LA School Report had a conversation in Spanish with Martínez minutes before she headed into the boardroom to address the school board.
Why did you decide to put everything aside today and make sure you were here in person?
I am here not just for me, but also on behalf of other parents. We don’t want that seat to remain empty. We want someone who can represent our kids well and has a voice and can vote on our behalf at that table. There are so many issues in our community, and we need someone who understands them and will help us solve them.
How difficult was it for you to be here today?
First of all, our kids have minimum days on Tuesday, the day the meetings are held. Sometimes we help each other and take turns so we can be present at the meetings. Like today, I had to ask someone else to help me watch my son so I could be here. In order to be here, you need to find support from other parents because it’s hard, but we need to be here and make sure they see we care about their resolutions and how they implement them.
What options do you have besides coming here in order for you to be heard by the school board?
It’s very difficult, and now that we don’t have a representative, even more so. With him (when Ref Rodriguez was in office), I know that people from his staff went out and met with parents at school sites and he opened an office in South Gate, where it was much easier for parents to be heard without having to come all the way here. So we need our new representative to go out to our neighborhoods to meet with us and hear about the issues we face every day, in hours that are convenient for us. The only reason why I can be here today, and being able to speak, is because I had to leave my job taking care of my special needs son. Otherwise, I would be in the same situation as most parents in my community.
That’s why it matters so much who’s going to be in that seat. It’s important that he gives us voice, but also that it’s someone who really represents us and addresses our needs. I’d like the South Gate office to remain open, so we can still meet there with our new representative in flexible schedules. It will also be very helpful for the new person to speak Spanish because unfortunately most of the parents in my community don’t speak English, and having to come to these meetings and not being fluent in English is difficult, because in my own experience, now that I know more English, I noticed that the translators translate in a certain way but not the way we want our message to come across.That’s unfortunate. I wish to be able to speak to my representative face to face without language barriers.
Which one of the options that are going to be decided on today are you in support of? Do you support a special election, the appointment of Jackie Goldberg, or the opportunity to nominate someone as an interim representative?
Honestly, I had no idea about the third option. I’m just hearing it from you right now. And that’s exactly why I am here, because there are things that we are not aware of and they will vote on.
I’m a very involved parent, because I have to be because of my son’s special needs, and I’m always trying to be informed about everything that has to do with the school district. I try to be updated with the news and calling people who can keep me informed, but not all parents are able to know what’s going on, especially in our communities. We want to have a voice. Our community needs someone who can put our kids first, and that’s why I am here today.
In an email, a district spokeswoman provided a response from the office of Board Secretariat Jefferson Crain regarding how the speaker slots were allotted last week:
“The Board of Education respects the views of all stakeholders and the importance of ensuring that their perspectives are represented. Included in the Board Rules are guidelines to help provide opportunities for public comment while efficiently conducting the District’s business. Board Rule. 131 covers the public comment portion of the meeting. It says the guidelines can be waived, when necessary, and that elected and appointed officials may be allowed to speak first as a show of courtesy.
“Speakers sign up to speak just prior to the meeting at a table set up near the entrance to the Board Room. The doors open a half-hour before the meeting starts.
“During the Aug. 21 meeting, former School Board Member Jackie Goldberg stopped at the speakers table just as the doors were opened. The Board Secretariat’s staff is aware of the practice of allowing public officials to address the Board, so they added her name on the speaker’s list for Tab 10. They mistakenly signed up the woman who was accompanying Ms. Goldberg; she should have been signed up at the same time as the general public.
“The number of speakers for Tab 10 was increased because of the unusual number of people who wanted to address the Board on the item. Dr. McKenna sent an email to Ms. García on Monday, asking for an exception to the number of speakers. The Board President agreed, and included Board Secretariat Jefferson Crain on her plan for the day.
“Mr. Crain believes that everyone who had waited in line and had wished to speak had been able to do so. Had he learned that additional people still wanted to be heard, he would have brought it to Ms. García’s attention.
“Sometimes, the number of people who would like to address the Board at a meeting may exceed the time available and that is why the Board maintains multiple avenues for individuals to share their concerns, support or opposition to issues. Board Members are also available by phone, fax, email and U.S. Mail. Board Members also appear at multiple community meetings and are always interested in community input.”