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'Faith, family, football': How a Texas town is healing after a cop killed a black teenager
LOCAL Education

Welcome to Essential Education, our daily look at education in California and beyond. Here's the latest:

  • What are Ref Rodriguez's prospects for staying on the school board — and the political costs for the charter-school movement if he does?
  • The L.A. Times editorial board weighs in on Rodriguez.
Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

See the documents in the Ref Rodriguez conflict-of-interest complaint

 (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

When Partnerships to Uplift Communities, a local charter school network, filed a complaint with a state agency alleging that Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez may have violated conflict-of-interest laws, the evidence included a series of checks and check authorizations.

The Times obtained these documents through a Public Records Act request. The highlights of these documents are embedded in the following article (link below). The charter network, better known as PUC Schools, filed its complaint Friday with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

For ParentsHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

Rodriguez's checks, Snapchat campaign, school hackers: What's new in education

 (Tripplaar Kristoffer / SIPA USA)
(Tripplaar Kristoffer / SIPA USA)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • See the documents in the new complaints against L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez.
  • Former USC medical school dean Carmen Puliafito used meth on the days when he saw patients, investigators allege.
  • After a Snapchat threat made against a school this week, LAPD launched a campaign telling students to "End It. Don't Send it."

In California:

  • Children with at least one non-English-speaking parent are less likely to be enrolled in high-quality preschool programs, according to a new national study.
  • Gov. Jerry Brown signed about 100 bills that concern education and children.

Nationwide:

  • An arbitrator found that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration violated a Newark teacher contract.
  • The U.S. Department of Education is warning administrators about hackers targeting schools.
Higher Education

Former USC medical school dean saw patients after using meth, investigators allege

 (Alex J. Berliner / Associated Press)
(Alex J. Berliner / Associated Press)

For more than a year while he was dean of USC’s medical school, Dr. Carmen Puliafito abused drugs on days he worked as an eye doctor in university facilities and “would return to his medical office to see patients within hours of using methamphetamine,” a state investigation alleges.

Puliafito consumed heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs on a near-daily basis at the Keck School of Medicine campus and in other locations, and the physician supplied drugs to other people, including a teenager and a patient in an addiction treatment facility, according to a filing that details the results of an investigation conducted for the Medical Board of California.

HS InsiderK-12

How a cadet program changed one teen's perspective on police

Valeria Estevez, a junior at El Camino Real Charter High School, talks about her experience in a police cadet program.

When I was little my dad and I used to spend our Sunday mornings sipping chocolate milk and coffee while watching the news. On the news, there was always something being said about the police — and most of the time, it was always something negative.

My television always showed a video of policemen being targeted for police brutality against African Americans or Hispanics. I, being a Hispanic young girl, was automatically triggered by this.

Although cops weren’t exactly beating my family members up, I felt hatred and disgust towards them. I thought to myself, “They’re here to keep us safe. If this is what ‘safe’ looks like, I no longer wish to be part of the community they are intended to protect and serve.”

My first encounter with an actual cop was at the age of 11. I had witnessed my mom receive a traffic ticket, and the cop had the audacity to hand me a sticker in the shape of their badge. After that I wasn’t really fond of the police either because my mom didn’t have much money to spend carelessly, especially not on some piece of paper, and because my television had always told me that cops didn’t exactly “protect and serve.”

Two years later, my mom dragged me to the Topanga police station to enroll me into a program called the Los Angeles Police Department Cadet Leadership Program. The name alone intimidated me.

California State UniversityCharter SchoolsHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

Ref Rodriguez's prospects, Cal State's local students, a school where boys are kings: What's new in education

Math teacher Liliana Villalpando leads her students through a course at Garfield High School. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Math teacher Liliana Villalpando leads her students through a course at Garfield High School. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • The prospects of keeping Ref Rodriguez on the L.A. Unified school board, as the linchpin of a narrow 4-3 pro-charter majority, have become politically perilous.
  • Charter school advocates want the board to change the rules that apply to charters.
  • A look at Little League's troubles in Los Angeles.

In California:

  • Cal State has been ordered by state legislators to find ways to help students choose campuses close to home.
  • Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required schools to give teachers paid pregnancy leave.

Nationwide:

  • Hartford, Conn., has desegregated half of its public schools.
  • NPR's Codeswitch spends time in a new all-boys school in Washington, D.C., where students are called "kings."
Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

What Ref Rodriguez's latest legal problems mean for the charter school movement

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

When prosecutors filed campaign finance charges against L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez last month, many charter school supporters rallied to his defense in hopes of saving not only his seat but their pro-charter school agenda as well.

They said that Rodriguez, a political novice, had made mistakes and that the amount of money involved, about $24,000, was too small for so much fuss.

But new conflict-of-interest allegations that came to light Monday focus on significantly more money — about $285,000 — and on Rodriguez’s actions as co-founder of a charter school network, his area of expertise.

Now the prospects of keeping him on the board, as the linchpin of a narrow 4-3 pro-charter majority, have become politically perilous.

K-12

School district pulled 'To Kill a Mockingbird' from shelves because it 'makes people uncomfortable'

Harper Lee (Getty Images)
Harper Lee (Getty Images)

The Biloxi, Miss., school district has pulled Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" from its curriculum because it "makes people uncomfortable," the Biloxi Sun Herald reports.

A member of the school board told the newspaper that the decision was made last week, and was not voted on by the board.

Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

Conflict-of-interest complaint against L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez sparks widespread concern

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Early reaction to conflict-of-interest allegations against Los Angeles school board member Ref Rodriguez included silence, concern and calls for his resignation.

The silence was partly explained by his supporters needing time to process what became public on Monday: Officials at PUC Schools, a local charter school network, have filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The filing alleges that Rodriguez, who co-founded PUC, ordered the transfer of about $265,000 from PUC to a nonprofit that appeared to be under his control. An additional $20,000 went to a private company in which he might have owned a stake.

For ParentsHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

New troubles for Ref Rodriguez, helping black students, tainted air in NorCal schools: What's new in education

Ref Rodriguez (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Ref Rodriguez (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • The charter school network that L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez co-founded has filed a complaint  with state regulators, alleging that Rodriguez had a conflict of interest when he authorized about $285,000 in payments drawn on its accounts.
  • A task force asks why L.A. Unified's black students have the lowest test scores, and looks into how schools can better serve those students.

In California:

  • Poor air quality is affecting schools far outside the zone of the Northern California wildfires.
  • Under a new law, low-income parents who enroll in English as a Second Language or high school equivalency courses will be eligible for subsidized childcare.

Nationwide:

  • A Mississippi school board pulled "To Kill A Mockingbird" from an eighth-grade reading list.
  • A Houston teachers union leader wants state education officials to cancel standardized testing this year and use the money they save to rebuild schools. 
K-12

Gov. Brown vetoes required paid pregnancy leave for California teachers, school employees

Math teacher Liliana Villalpando leads her students through a course at Garfield High School. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Math teacher Liliana Villalpando leads her students through a course at Garfield High School. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Required paid pregnancy leave is off the table for California teachers and school employees. 

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB 568, which would have required schools to give teachers six weeks of paid time off for pregnancy, childbirth, miscarriages or other reproductive health issues.

 

Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez faces conflict-of-interest complaint over $285,000 in payments

 (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The charter school network that L.A. school board member Ref Rodriguez co-founded and ran for years has filed a complaint with state regulators alleging that Rodriguez had a conflict of interest when he authorized about $285,000 in payments drawn on its accounts.

Officials at Partnerships to Uplift Communities, or PUC Schools, filed the complaint Friday with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

K-12LAUSD

Snapchat threat against Van Nuys High School deemed not credible

Van Nuys High School classes are in session Monday morning as police investigate reports that someone threatened the school on Snapchat, authorities said. Police determined that the threat was not credible.

Around 8 p.m. Sunday, Los Angeles police received reports that there was a social media threat against the high school, said Det. Ross Nemeroff. Officers completed an initial preliminary investigation, and the matter is now being handled by the LAPD major crimes division, he said.

Betsy DeVosK-12LAUSDUniversity of California

A Snapchat threat, the end of exit exams, DeVos' priorities: What's new in education

Education Secretary Besy DeVos (TNS)
Education Secretary Besy DeVos (TNS)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • A USC fundraising official quit amid allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues.
  • Someone took to Snapchat to send messages  threatening to "just kill everyone" at Van Nuys High School.

In California:

  • A UC Davis emergency room doctor is leading an effort to find patterns that will help prevent gun violence.
  • Say goodbye to California's high school exit exam.

Nationwide:

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a list of her top priorities. No. 1 is school choice.
  • She visited a Bay Area public school last week to learn about "personalized learning."
University of California

A UC Davis ER doctor searches for patterns to try to stop gun violence before it happens

Garen Wintemute, a UC Davis emergency room physician, has been studying gun violence for more than 30 years. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Garen Wintemute, a UC Davis emergency room physician, has been studying gun violence for more than 30 years. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The low-slung building in Sacramento is locked and unmarked for a reason. It’s the nerve center of the newly inaugurated University of California Firearm Violence Prevention Research Center.

The center’s 15 UC Davis researchers, along with others from UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine, plan to use a five-year, $5-million state appropriation to conduct the most extensive examination ever of gun violence — who is at risk and how to prevent it. The state dollars help fill a void created when the federal government largely stopped funding gun violence research two decades ago.

Higher Education

USC fundraising executive leaves post amid sexual harassment investigation

 (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

USC administrator responsible for raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the university has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues, the latest blow to a campus already dealing with the arrest of an assistant basketball coach and the departures of two medical school deans accused of misconduct.

David Carrera, a university vice president who helped lead USC’s historic $6-billion fundraising campaign, is the subject of an internal university investigation in which dozens of employees have been interviewed about his treatment of women, university officials confirmed Tuesday in response to inquiries from The Times.

K-12LAUSD

Enrollment drops even more than expected in L.A. Unified

 (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Enrollment has dropped even more than anticipated in the Los Angeles Unified School District, exacerbating budget problems and signaling that efforts to reverse the decline are falling short.

L.A. Unified had been expecting enrollment to shrink 2.1%, but the actual drop has been 2.55%. That small percentage difference translates to about 5,400 students, said Scott Price, chief financial officer for L.A. Unified.

K-12

California’s high school exit exam is officially a thing of the past

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Eighteen years after lawmakers agreed that California high school students should prove their skills on a final exam before earning diplomas, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday to permanently repeal the requirement.

The move comes two years after Brown and lawmakers imposed a three-year suspension of the law, which would have expired next spring. It marks the final chapter of a law that was originally promised to ensure students should be able to prove a series of basic reading and math skills before graduating.

Higher EducationK-12LAUSD

Fire-related school shutdowns, Michelle King on leave, LAUSD's enrollment woes: What's new in education

L.A. Unified superintendent Michelle King (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. Unified superintendent Michelle King (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • L.A. Unified superintendent Michelle King is out on medical leave.
  • The district's enrollment fell short of expectations — and fewer students means less money from the state.

In California:

  • A new poll finds that most Californians support increasing state-funded financial aid.
  • Nine Orange County schools were shut down because of the fire in Anaheim Hills. Officials reported at least 14 school closures across seven counties in Northern California.

Nationwide:

  • Schools in Florida are resegregating, according to UCLA research.
  • One in every 10 students in the nation's largest public school system was homeless at some point last school year.

 

K-12LAUSD

L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King on medical leave

 (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles schools chief Michelle King is recuperating from surgery and has appointed a subordinate to run the school system in her stead.

In an email over the weekend, she told senior staff that Associate Supt. Vivian Ekchian would serve as acting superintendent “for the remainder of my absence.”

The district has not discussed King’s medical problems, but some insiders said she injured herself in an accident while on vacation with her family. Whatever the details, she was apparently suffering from severe leg pain, which ultimately required surgery, said district sources, who could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

HS InsiderK-12

A ballet student learns that pointe wasn't the whole point after all

 (Tina Takhmazyan / HS Insider)
(Tina Takhmazyan / HS Insider)

Tina Takhmazyan, a junior at Hoover High School, grew up obsessed with ballet. Then she had an accident. 

I just thought my life wasn’t exciting enough.

I read about it in books and articles, see it in documentaries and movies; people who do the impossible and get an article published or movie made in their honor. I was inspired, but not truly touched because I could never understand what it really felt like to have everything you loved ripped away from you because of something you couldn’t control. Then, I did.

I was 3 when I joined my first dance lesson. I was sticky handed, rosy-cheeked and smelled like the afternoon’s apple juice. As I ran into my ballet class for the first time, I knew I never wanted to leave.

The silky, soft pink ribbon in my hair would not sit right, but I felt special regardless. My fingers, with the remains of my peanut butter and grape jelly snack, would grab my hair and attempt to construct the chignons I saw my ballet instructor, Madame Camille, pin. They never turned out right and she would float across the room to help.

She smelled like powdery rose and black tea leaves, and the scent would linger behind and tickle my nose. She would brush my hair until it stuck straight onto my head, then twirl the hair as she held the pin between her teeth. In a movement swifter than the pirouettes we did at the barre, she placed the pin by the hair and secured the chignon. The chignon that I made just chose to flop onto my face.

I went to my lessons four days a week for ten years. I made some of my closest friends there, but greater than anything, I found something I was good at. I put every free moment I had into practicing my foot placements and becoming stronger. Then, something changed.

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