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The Ultimate Tragedy of Deregulating Schools

Mother killed and student injured getting to school.
Mother killed and student injured getting to school.
The tragic death of a mother and the severe injury of a student today underscore complaints that have been made for years by parents, teachers and principals at doubled up campuses throughout Los Angeles. 

As LAUSD moves to deregulate schools and flings open the doors to sell off parts of its campuses to schools accountable for little more than test scores, hundreds of unplanned car trips per day descend upon each peaceful neighborhood. Makeshift entrances and adhoc drop-offs ignore the originally designed ingress and egress of carefully planned facilities. Dozens of children at each co-located campus risk their lives dashing across streets. Double and triple-parked cars and stopped traffic are reported at nearly every co-location in the city. 

Now a young girl has lost her mother and has been injured herself.

The course that LAUSD is pursuing, viewing schools as business franchises, has led to thoughtless co-locations. Prop 39, which requires districts to provide facilities to charter school students, does not require the district to ignore public safety--or common sense. And the school district is creating more special schools to co-locate at neighborhood schools every year. Yet, the countless complaints about the doubling up have been rejected with district claims that public streets are not their purview. The City, in turn, claims that it can't control the second largest school district in the country. 

Today's incident puts both the school district and the City on notice that co-locations can gravely impact public safety in ways that cannot be ignored. The school district needs to stop thrusting an entirely new school onto an existing school and telling everyone to figure out the details for themselves. The impacts of these co-locations cannot be simply absorbed by over-taxed facilities and neighborhoods.

The solution is to require proposed co-locations to go through an approval process where their traffic and pedestrian safety plans face scrutiny similar to newly constructed schools. Then, if the school district and the City want to keep pointing fingers at each other, somebody will help them settle the argument--before another family suffers a tragedy like today. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paula February 13, 2014 at 09:40 AM
Yes indeed, this is a great sadness for CWC families, and a horrifying tragedy. As Ira said in this interview, crossing safety on Bronson has been discussed many times at Board meetings and in school committees. These concerns are documented in the Board meeting minutes archived on CWC’s website. The administration said they “looked into it” but that “they said no.” Who is “they?” As it turns out, LAUSD is the entity that requests crossing guards from LADOT, once it is determined that a school site meets the threshold. However, charter schools, although authorized by LAUSD, are not LAUSD schools, so its not LAUSD’s role to provide for guards. It is up to CWC to hire its own crossing guard, seek out parent volunteers to perform the job, or hire an independent traffic engineer to prove to LADOT that the threshold has been met. CWC did none of these, they just shrugged their shoulders and said “they” said no. This complete lack of care is why I pulled my child out of Citizens of the World Hollywood. Its simply not safe, among other problems. There were near-misses on Bronson regularly and parents routinely expressed concern with dangers on Bronson and school safety in general, yet no action was taken improve things. CWC did contract a traffic engineer last year to perform a 16 page circulation study on a property they wanted to buy about 10 blocks from the site of this tragedy. They had every opportunity to conduct a study at that time of the LeConte school that would have possibly satisfied LADOT and secured a crossing guard. Hindsight is 20/20. I’m very happy to have left CWC and be at a public school where we have all the required safety protocols in place and no problem finding parents to volunteer for crossing duties.
Rene Diedrich February 13, 2014 at 12:56 PM
These are terrifying realities in a school system that is preoccupied by profits instead of protecting and educating children, as LAUSD become a privatized beat of burden to communities. The way these lawyers and educRAT$ operate is criminally indifferent and sadly, this loss will not move them to any sort of ephiphany as long as they have it rigged where the profits are coming in via charters yet they are allowed to operate with the perks of a public sector. No accountability or consequences has been the norm too long at LAUSD ich is assailing teachers with consequences for the administrator and officials' misdeeds. Wolfe is astute in her explication of the additional threats presented by hosting these fly by night profit oreinted schools . I urge her and the parents to address this with swift and unwavering protests until the problem is addressed and the child and her family are adequately compensated. The fact is she and her family face another harrowing ordeal when they confron LAUSD in court. The district has all taxpayer money to throw behind lawyers and will trump this family's claims. That is how ruthless LAUSD. Parents alone can make them accountable. It is the people's money, the people's school and the people's children. Please claim what is yours before these privatizers take what we have and leave our children with less than nothing. www.hemlockontherocks.com
M.J. Kang February 13, 2014 at 07:51 PM
I'll trust the L.A. Times in regards to the facts: "World Charter School shares a campus with Joseph Le Conte Middle School, an LAUSD campus. District officials said the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is ultimately responsible for allocating guards to crosswalks like the one outside the campus. Still, L.A. Unified officials can ask the department to conduct an “evaluation for the necessity of a crossing guard,” said John Sterritt, director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety. Sterritt said the district asked the Department of Transportation to perform engineering work and restriping at the crosswalk in January 2013. The engineering work was done within 30 to 60 days, he said, but the district never heard back about a crossing guard. “We did follow up,” Sterritt said, “but I’ve found no evidence that we heard anything.” http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-hollywood-crossing-guard-20140213,0,2932003.story#ixzz2tFkiqlDM
Ronnie Castro February 13, 2014 at 08:30 PM
Prop 39 wouldn't cover a crossing guard for Citizens of the World because, if I'm not mistaken, middle schools and high schools don't receive school crossing guards and CWC co-located in a middle school. CWC was aware of this problem for a long time and chose not to do anything about it. The fault lies with CWC, not the LAUSD. Charters sell themselves as different than LAUSD schools because they are able to act quickly on issues that a regulated school can not. They can hire and fire staff without having to get permission from anyone. In this case, CWC knew about this issue, could have done something about it (at least until they could convince the LADOT to do something) and decided it was not worth the money to protect their families. They took a gamble. The point of this OpEd is very clear - deregulation costs us dearly. That CWC is passing the buck and not taking any responsibility for their part in this tragedy should give all parents pause.
M.J. Kang February 13, 2014 at 11:11 PM
You are mistaken. Elementary Charter schools within LAUSD are able to apply for crossing guards. There is no passing the buck. Get your facts right, please. This is an extremely tragic situation. http://www.dcpcsb.org/data/images/attachment%2040%20how%20to%20request%20a%20crossing%20guard.pdf
M.J. Kang February 13, 2014 at 11:20 PM
Here is what LADOT said regarding this tragedy: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family after today's tragic accident. Safety is a priority for the department and we are looking at increasing the resources allocated to the crossing guard program and identifying additional safety measures. This location qualified for a crossing guard but one was not assigned due to limited resources. At this time a police investigation is underway and it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Ronnie Castro February 14, 2014 at 11:29 AM
CWC is not an elementary school within LAUSD. CWC doesn't have janitors or nurses provided by the LAUSD or their host school either. The location qualified for an elementary school, but under Prop39, the LAUSD is not obligated to provide it. Charters don't have the same regulations of an LAUSD school, that's one of the selling points of charter schools. Unfortunately, charters don't receive the benefits or experience of an LAUSD school either. A mother has died as a direct result of there not being a crossing guard, correct? Even if, as CWC (and you) believe that the LAUSD was supposed to tell the LADOT to provide the crossing guard, why wouldn't CWC provide one in the interim? This is a school that's already been known to pay it's executives extraordinary sums as well as fundraising in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Paula, an ex-parent at CWC Hollywood, street safety was an issue that came up in Board meetings and CWC just shrugged. The entire purpose of charters is to act quickly on matters that would otherwise require a number of regulations on the part of an LAUSD school. If CWC knew of the danger (which they did) and were not going to tend to this matter themselves, this was a failure on CWC's part. The surviving family could VERY easily sue and win the lawsuit. It appears that they deserve too and maybe should to bring this matter to public attention. The mother was sold the charter school based on the idea that CWC could move quickly and nimbly to solve problems, until they didn't. You are an employee of CWC Mar Vista, MJ Kang? Is it not in your best interests to believe the best of an organization that might not deserve that generosity from others?
M.J. Kang February 14, 2014 at 02:11 PM
No, I am not an employee of CWC Mar Vista, Ronnie Castro. I am a mother who is upset by this tragedy and it is sickening that this tragedy is being picked up by anti-Charter/anti-co-location personalities who seem to enjoy disseminating incorrect information and attacking charter schools.
Ronnie Castro February 14, 2014 at 02:20 PM
This is not an anti-charter personality difference, but a simple description of responsibilities. There is no way to pass the blame on to an organization that doesn't bear the responsibility. CWC could have provided a crossing guard and they didn't. Now a mother is dead. You were described as the "field coordinator" for CWC Mar Vista in a very quick google search. You may be a parent or an employee, but the salient point is that your blinders and vested interest in CWC may be preventing you from seeing the carelessness they showed towards their own families.
Danny Feeney February 14, 2014 at 06:34 PM
I'm confused, MJ Kang - the web link you give for elementary charter schools to apply for crossing guards applies to schools in the District of Columbia. The guard would have a long commute from Washington DC to Citizens of the World in Hollywood. As far as I can see, Charter Schools, along with the independence they seek in their autonomy from LAUSD, also agree to shoulder the responsibility for their students' safety themselves.
Jenocean March 03, 2014 at 03:26 PM
Is this piece written by the same Karen Prennatt Wolfe who was sued by the federal government for failure to repay student loans and then threatened with contempt of court for failure to show up for your hearing? http://www.law360.com/cases/4da4b45f10250d568b000002/dockets?page=1 The same woman who also protested CWC and made a video falsely claiming to have a student at the co-located campus, Stoner Elementary, (saying "I would invite you to come and look at my kid's school.") even though she also claims to live in Venice? The same Karen that also claimed to have a student at MDD Middle School while protesting Broadway Mandarin Immersion's location there? The same woman that accused Broadway parents of racism, even though she is white and most of the parents she falsely accused are people of color? I really do not know what her motives are, but this is not a woman you can trust. Both the LA Time and NBC reported the process by which CWC requested a crossing, guard. LAUSD honored that request, and it was LADOT's job to provide one. LADOT failed to do so and has admitted as much. CWC is not allowed to arbitrarily go out and stop traffic. It was not CWC who dropped the ball, it was LADOT, and LAUSD has since been providing its own cops to handle the situation until LADOT does its job.
Jenocean March 03, 2014 at 03:37 PM
By the way, I find it disgusting that you would try to exploit the tragedy of this woman's death to further your anti-charter political agenda. Truly shameful!
Ronnie Castro March 03, 2014 at 04:49 PM
A couple of important points, Jenocean. Regardless of whatever you may think of the author of this article (and your attack on her says more about you than her), she's spot on about the serious problems with de-regulation. Unless we want MORE children at risk, we would do well to pay attention to the kinds of lethal mistakes that get made with de-regulation. 1) The LAUSD doesn't provide crossing guards for LAUSD middle school buildings. And because CWC was a charter school co-located in a middle school building, even thought it's an elementary school, it was not the LAUSD's responsibility to push the LADOT to provide the building with a crossing guard. Prop 39 does not cover crossing guards. 2) CWC at one time trained parents to be crossing guards and then stopped. The board minutes are clear that this was an issue for some time and the board was aware that every day without a crossing guard put their children at risk. 3) In lieu of not having a crossing guard or parent volunteers, the CWC board of directors did not consider paying for a crossing guard out of their enormous coffers. This is a school that raised $200K in a single year. There is no PTA, so deciding how to spend money falls squarely on the shoulders of the board of directors. The family of this woman has a strong case against Citizens of the World Charter Schools. They CHOSE not to protect their children, and a mother died as a result. This is not an issue of charter/noncharter. I am sure there are plenty of charter schools that would have made their family's safety a high priority. Clearly Citizens of the World Charter Schools is not one of them.
Jenocean March 05, 2014 at 12:20 AM
It's not the building they provide guards for. it's the kids, and they approved CWC's request. Read the LA Times story. Watch NBC's report. They detail exactly what happened and paid the blame squarely at the feet of LADOT. Charter schools, especially ones co-located on LAUSD campuses are absolutely regulated. They are approved by the school board. They are inspected by LAUSD facilities people. And contrary to what a previous poster think, CWC is a non-profit organization. Don't toss out words like deregulation and sling blame without knowing the facts. Here is one of the NBC reports on this: "The team obtained internal city records that show more than 500 LA schools have requested and been approved by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to receive crossing guards. Of the 507 schools that were approved for crossing guards, 169 schools have not received them. The LADOT told NBC4 that a lack of money and a city hiring freeze are two reasons why requests have not been fulfilled. The department declined to do an on-camera interview." http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/crosswalk-safety-crossing-guards-LAUSD-LADOT-investigations-245561001.html
Jenocean March 05, 2014 at 12:23 AM
Here is the LA Times: "The Los Angeles Unified School District requested a guard more than a year ago to monitor a crosswalk near a Hollywood school where a mother escorting her child was fatally struck by a big rig Tuesday, but city transportation officials said they could not fulfill the request due to "limited resources." http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-hollywood-crossing-guard-20140213,0,2932003.story#ixzz2v3xa7qgv
Ronnie Castro March 05, 2014 at 08:51 AM
Jenocean, There are two very important points here. 1)Citizens of the World students are not LAUSD students so they don't necessarily get the same protections unless it's writ in Prop 39. 2) While waiting for a crossing guard, Citizens of the World Charter School was responsible for ensuring the safety of their students. The minutes of the Citizens of the World Charter School board meetings state that they were aware of the danger. The fact that at one time they trained parent volunteers to protect their families at that street crossing is a damning fact. Should the family of this mother decide to sue (and I would because the negligence is outstanding), they could win against Citizens of the World Charter Schools. Again, this is a school that fundraised over $200K in one year. The board members of Citizens of the World Charter Schools who are charged with fundraising, are exceptionally wealthy and include: Mark Gordon, Christopher Forman, and Cam Starrett - just google their names. They didn't pay for a temporary crossing guard because they didn't think it mattered. Now someone is dead. Put the blame where it belongs - on Citizens of the World Charter Schools.
Jenocean March 05, 2014 at 10:49 PM
Once again, Ronnie, you seem unaware of the facts of this case. if you would actually read legitimate news stories, you could get your facts straight. But I see you prefer propaganda.
Ronnie Castro March 06, 2014 at 02:35 PM
Jenocean, as a CWC parent or staff member, I understand how difficult this information is to swallow. I am fully aware of the facts in this case. Your CWC board did not find it urgent enough to protect the families who enrolled in CWC. They once did (by training parents to be crossing guards), and for whatever reason they stopped. There's no propaganda here. Not every charter school would have made that deadly decision that ended the life of this mother. Your own charter school board changed over the past year or so. Maybe that's why they lost sight of safety essentials. Lawsuits are designed to punish people responsible for exactly this type of negligence and to set an example for others who may make the same thoughtless mistakes. I do hope that the family of this mother sues the school. Let a judge decide who's at fault. This child deserves justice for the loss of her mother.
Jenocean March 06, 2014 at 10:29 PM
My child is in preschool, and I am a self-employed journalist. I do not work for the school and do not have a child attending the school. Once again, get your facts straight and stop making assumptions that are simply wrong. Perhaps the school should sue you for libel.
Rene Diedrich March 20, 2014 at 06:28 PM
Jenocean, it is common knowledge that the mainstream media is devoted to the deep pockets that essential reduce them from journalists to glorified stenographers banging out propaganda about the failure of public schools and the ope provided by charters . Of course garter schools are wildly lucrative and have no obligation to serve special needs students, ESL demographics or anyone they choose not to. I don't know what the truth is , but if the board earned the $200k and failed to address that issue with the traffic , I'd like to know what they did with that money. The school is liable for the woman's death, and so is LAUSD for housing both campuses in a fashion that compromised the safety of students on both. Frankly, your attack on Karen Wolfe illustrates the kind of climate our schools operate in . There is a mean spirit in each revocation that betrays far worse character flaws than those of a person who has defaulted on student loans. Thousands of LAUSD teachers, myself included will be doing this bc the districts profit driven agenda has purged us to make room for interns who are cheaper and more obedient. These are qualities I am sure you value, but in schools they are detrimental to learning as well as the safety of students. When your child is in a public school, maybe you will get that . I do not know what Wolfe lied about if anything . What I do know is she us tireless as advocate and activist who defends children from the white chalk criminals and plutocrats infested in our schools right now. If she was deceitful, I am sure it was for a good reason, which is more than I can say about your wanton defamation . Karen is a good parent, a formidable foe against enemies of public education and a friend to students, teachers and parents in LA. Her compassion and intelligence are obvious in this article and her work for other education sites. What do you do for your community? I guess I can't google you to fund out, how convenient.
Jenocean March 23, 2014 at 07:58 PM
I'm sorry, Rene, your ignorance about both journalism and charter schools is rather astounding. Charters cannot discriminate against kids with special needs. WISH Charter and CHIME charter are known as two of the best public schools in terms of how they work inclusively with special needs kids. And I personally know an African American girl with autism from my son's preschool who is at CWC MV with a full-time one-on-one aide provided by the school. Another close friend from my neighborhood has a son with CHARGE syndrome at CWC. He has had something like a dozen surgeries, including several open heart surgeries, and is so disabled that a nurse accompanies him to school. She was so grateful to find CWC because LAUSD had put her son in a chaotic special class alongside kids with Down Syndrome, even though he is brilliant and was reading a year above grade level. At CWC he is mainstreamed into the regular class, as are all students. I've met other parents of special needs kids at WISH and CWC who are so thrilled by this inclusive model and the differentiated instruction the schools provide. As a teacher and union member, you would be wise to examine the reasons why 20% of LAUSD students are moving to charters. When LAUSD has such an impossible time firing teachers who are incompetent, abusive or drunk on the job, many savvy parents are going to opt out of that system.

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