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LA Unified board OKs $1.1 million for Jefferson schedule mess

Craig Clough | October 14, 2014

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Jefferson High School students (from right) Armani Richards, Jason Magaña, Bryan Rodriguez and Eduardo Tamayo before they are set to speak at the LA Unified school board meeting on Oct. 14, 2014.

The LA Unified school board today unanimously approved the district’s $1.1 million plan to fix scheduling issues at Jefferson High School and respond to a temporary restraining order issued last week by a judge that ordered the state to step in and fix the problems.

Before the vote on the plan — which was presented by Tommy Chang, superintendent of Intensive Support and Innovation Center for LA Unified and Jefferson Principal Jack Foote — the board heard from a number of students at Jefferson who told stories of lost learning time and being shuffled into the wrong classes or the school auditorium to wait for days or weeks for a new schedule.

The board also heard from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Alex-Caputo Pearl, who assailed the district’s efforts to lay of the blame at the foot of the school’s teachers, and from State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson, who said he supported the plan, which includes extending the class day and increasing support personnel.

“I am committed, and the California Department of Education is committed, to fully support the district’s efforts to make their plan succeed and meet the needs of the students at Jefferson,” Torlakson said.

The remedies in the plan include adding courses for students who need them, by Friday, and extending the school day by 30 minutes, starting Oct. 20, to add 3,600 minutes of instruction for the year.

The temporary restraining order was issued as part of a larger lawsuit, Cruz vs. California, which was brought by the ACLU and Public Counsel on behalf of students who allege the state is not assuring the quality of education for students from nine schools around California, including LA Unified’s Jefferson, Dorsey High School and Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School

Jefferson has seen an array of scheduling problems since the school year began, with hundreds of students in the first week being given the wrong classes or no classes. On August 25, students held a walkout to protest the scheduling problems.

The school has since fixed most of the problems, but some students are still in the wrong classes or being given two or more home periods or “service” classes that offer no instructional time. Chang told the board that the district had found that 48 students at Jefferson currently have two or more home periods but that 41 were on track to graduate.

“We will immediately remedy their schedules,” Chang said.

David Sapp, an ACLU lawyer, told LA School Report the organization was not totally pleased with the district’s plan.

“We have an issue with the numbers of students they are reporting,” Sapp said. “The way the report was worded, it talked only about graduation requirements. But if that’s all they looked at, that’s not consistent with the judge’s order. But we agree with the basic idea of hiring more teachers to catch students up.”

Several students from Jefferson and one from Dorsey addressed the board. Jason Magaña told of being given the wrong classes and then being put into an economics class after four weeks.

“It’s been tough to catch up with the kids who have been in the class since the first day,” Magaña said.

Magaña also said he has been given two home periods he has not asked for, which means that on Wednesdays and Fridays he is finished with school at 11:20 a.m. and every other Tuesday he is finished at 10:30 a.m.

“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.

In his remarks to the board, Caputo-Pearl said the blame for the scheduling mess was the fault of mismanagement by the district. He also addressed statements made by district officials that the refusal of teachers and Jefferson to change their schedule played a roll in the scheduling mess. At Jefferson, teachers work on a eight-period day and teach six of those periods.

“It is shameful, actually, that there are district personnel who have tried to blame this situation on teachers and educators,” he said. “The schedule that they have at Jefferson actually offers more than enough space, class sections and flexibility to offer the classes that would have been needed, had appropriate scheduling been brought forward.”

Board Member Monica Ratliff expressed her displeasure at being involved in a lawsuit that alleges students in the district are being deprived of their right to an education.

“When I was in law school, the whole reason I went into public interest was because of Brown v. Board of Ed. and not because I wanted to be on the Board of Ed’s side,” Ratliff said. “I don’t anybody here wants to be on the side of violating students civil rights. And so I simply ask our community partners, like the Public Counsel and ACLU, to come to us as soon as they know that there is an issue, because I would like to have it remedied immediately, and not have to wait for a TRO or a court order.”

Vanessa Romo contributed to this report. 

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