LOCAL Education

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

  • USC faced a year of questioning before a scandal involving former medical school dean Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito broke.
  • The state has picked a senior L.A. Unified administrator to take over Inglewood Unified.
Higher EducationK-12LAUSD

A teacher's defamation lawsuit, what USC knew, Texas' bathroom bill fight: What's new in education

Rafe Esquith None
Rafe Esquith

In and around Los Angeles:

  • USC officials faced more than a year of questioning from the L.A. Times reporters about its former medical school dean before a scandal broke.
  • A senior L.A. Unified official will run the troubled Inglewood Unified schools.
  • Fired L.A. Unified teacher Rafe Esquith can sue the district for defamation, a court ruled.

In California:

  • Thanks to a new class, more girls and minorities are taking AP computer science tests.
  • The state's teacher pension system beat its earnings target for the last fiscal year.

Nationwide:

  • A Texas Senate committee approved a bill that would restrict access to bathrooms, showers and changing facilities in government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
  • How one school that serves students with disabilities could be affected by changes to healthcare policy.
K-12

USC received questions for more than a year about former medical school dean's conduct before scandal broke

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

Four days after The Times published a story about drug use by the then-dean of USC’s medical school, the university announced it was moving to fire Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito and said it was “outraged and disgusted” by his conduct.

It remains unclear when top USC officials first learned about the allegations involving Puliafito. But The Times made repeated inquiries over the last 15 months about Puliafito, in some cases describing information reporters had gathered about the dean.

K-12

Bathroom bills in Texas show city-state divide

 (Ashley Landis / TNS)
(Ashley Landis / TNS)

After dividing North Carolina, the battle over regulating transgender bathroom access has become one of the most bitter and contentious political issues in Texas in recent history, exposing a widening fault line between liberal cities and the conservative state, as well as social conservatives and more centrist, business-friendly Republican legislators.

Following more than 10 hours of testimony — mostly from those opposed to a bathroom bill — the Senate State Affairs Committee approved a bill Friday that would restrict access to bathrooms, showers and changing facilities in government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

K-12

Senior L.A. Unified official tapped to lead Inglewood schools

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state has picked a senior Los Angeles schools administrator, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, to lead the troubled Inglewood Unified School District.

The Inglewood school system, which is just east of Los Angeles International Airport, has long struggled with low academic achievement and declining enrollment, including the last five years under state control.

Higher Education

Claremont college suspends students for demonstration against pro-police speaker

Heather Mac Donald speaks in April through live-stream video at Claremont McKenna College as protesters outside block access to the auditorium. (Claremont McKenna College)
Heather Mac Donald speaks in April through live-stream video at Claremont McKenna College as protesters outside block access to the auditorium. (Claremont McKenna College)

Claremont McKenna College has suspended three students for a year and two others for a semester for blocking access to a campus event to protest a speaker known for defending police against Black Lives Matter activists.

The action, announced last week, arises out of an April 6 demonstration during which students and others ignored temporary barriers and blocked entrances to the Athenaeum and Kravis Center, where author and commentator Heather Mac Donald was scheduled to speak.

Former L.A. Unified teacher can proceed with defamation lawsuit, appellate court says

Former Hobart Boulevard Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith, who was fired after allegations that he made inappropriate comments in front of students, will be allowed to proceed with his defamation lawsuit against L.A. Unified, a state appellate court ruled Thursday.

The court upheld a lower court ruling from last year, which denied a district motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Esquith ran a theater nonprofit for his students, many of whom were low income, and was nationally recognized for his teaching methods.

Esquith was removed from his classroom in April 2015 after another employee complained about a joke he made to students.

He sued the district in state court soon after, demanding that L.A. Unified retract allegations of sexual misconduct and pay him damages.  

L.A. Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber declined to comment on the appellate court ruling.

“We agreed with the ruling in the trial court and we agree with the opinion of the court of appeal," said Zack Muljat, one of Esquith's attorneys. "We look forward to the opportunity to forge ahead and bring justice to Mr. Esquith.”

K-12

Lawsuit says North Carolina 'bathroom bill' effects still felt

Joaquin Carcaño is among the plaintiffs in a suit challenging a law passed to replace North Carolina's so-called bathroom bill. (Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Joaquin Carcaño is among the plaintiffs in a suit challenging a law passed to replace North Carolina's so-called bathroom bill. (Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

Transgender people in North Carolina are still effectively prevented from using restrooms matching their gender identity under a law that replaced the state's notorious "bathroom bill" earlier this year, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The replacement law continues the harms of its predecessor by leaving restroom policies in the hands of state lawmakers and preventing local governments or school systems from setting rules or offering guidance, the complaint states.

Betsy DeVosHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

Inglewood Unified's new leader, DeVos' Twitter fight, Delaine Eastin's run: What's new in education

Delaine Eastin (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Delaine Eastin (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana is leaving as the L.A. Unified School District's head of educational services to become the state administrator of the Inglewood Unified School District.
  • USC's current medical school dean criticized his predecessor's alleged behavior.

In California:

  • Former state schools chief Delaine Eastin faces long odds in her run for governor.
  • The state wants to use light-handed rebukes — including, in some cases, just adding an icon on a report card — to ding schools whose students don't all participate in standardized tests.
  • A guide to charter schools in California.

Nationwide:

Higher Education

After officer is disciplined, police union examines incident at Pasadena hotel involving controversial former USC dean

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

The union that represents the Pasadena police officer who was disciplined for not filing a prompt report on a drug overdose witnessed by the then-dean of USC’s medical school is conducting a legal review of the incident, the labor organization said Thursday.

A tip about the March 2016 overdose of a young woman at the Hotel Constance in Pasadena led to a Times investigation that found that Dr. Carmen Puliafito associated with criminals and drug abusers who said they used methamphetamine and other drugs with him while he headed the Keck School of Medicine.

Betsy DeVosK-12

Betsy DeVos versus the American Federation of Teachers, a Twitter battle

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos often faces intense criticism, in person and online. But she rarely responds to pointed tweets.

Thursday, though, was different. After the American Federation of Teachers union critiqued something DeVos had said, a point she reiterated that day in remarks at the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Denver, she fired back.

K-12

Two missing Boyle Heights teens found safe

 (Los Angeles Police Department)
(Los Angeles Police Department)

Two Boyle Heights teenagers who were reported missing Wednesday were found safe early Thursday, police said.

Authorities had been searching for Jaylin Mazariegos, 15, and Adrian Gonzalez, 14, since 3 p.m. They were found about 12:45 a.m. near the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, Hollenbeck Division police said.

Sgt. John Porras said police were able to determine their cellphone location.

Higher Education

Alleged conduct by former USC dean 'horrible and despicable,' med school head tells angry students

Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito stepped down as USC medical school dean in 2016. (Alex J. Berliner / Associated Press)
Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito stepped down as USC medical school dean in 2016. (Alex J. Berliner / Associated Press)

Addressing scores of bewildered and at times angry students, the dean of USC’s medical school said Wednesday that the university had launched multiple internal investigations into the conduct of his predecessor after The Times reported that he associated with criminals and drug abusers who told of using methamphetamine and other drugs with him.

“These allegations, if they are true, they are horrible and despicable,” Dr. Rohit Varma told the gathering of scores of medical scholars and graduate students at the Keck School of Medicine in Boyle Heights, who were summoned to a town-hall-type meeting to discuss The Times’ article about Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito. The newspaper obtained a recording of the meeting.

“He’s a man who had a brilliant career, all gone down the drain,” Varma said. “I’m standing in this place where my predecessor now has this taint. ... It is sad.”

K-12

What's Delaine Eastin thinking? The long-shot candidate for governor explains

 (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Accusing Sacramento’s political power barons of neglecting California schoolchildren, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin jumped into the 2018 governor’s race in the fall vowing to shove the issue of education to the forefront of the campaign.

Eastin’s done her part, at least, calling for increased funding for schools and lower, in some cases free, college tuition as she travels the state.

She’s also been quick to stoke California’s fiery left, calling for President Trump’s impeachment and the establishment of a state-run single-payer healthcare system.

But Eastin faces long odds.

Betsy DeVosCalifornia State UniversityCharter SchoolsHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

A civic group is advising L.A. Unified, Cal State's capacity issues, a record-setting donation: What's new in education

Austin Beutner began quietly putting together the advisory task force, with the superintendent's endorsement, in the latter part of 2016. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Austin Beutner began quietly putting together the advisory task force, with the superintendent's endorsement, in the latter part of 2016. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • A group of business, philanthropic and community leaders want to advise L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King on fixing the district.
  • USC's president sent a letter to the campus community saying he would "examine and address" a Times report about the former medical school dean's drug use and criminal ties.

In California:

  • Cal State's trustees are trying to assemble a budget that helps the system accommodate more fully qualified students, thousands of whom were turned away from their desired campuses.
  • Meet the Nazarians, an Iranian couple that donated $17 million to CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center in the system's largest ever arts-related donation. 

Nationwide:

  • House Republicans are rejecting Trump's proposed cuts to higher education.
  • Betsy DeVos started a speech focused on special education by talking about school choice.
Community CollegesHigher Education

Drop algebra requirement for non-STEM majors, California community colleges chief says

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

The chancellor of the California Community Colleges system says intermediate algebra should no longer be required to earn an associate's degree — unless students are in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.

Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who heads the nation’s largest community college system of 114 campuses, told The Times that intermediate algebra is seen as a major barrier for students of color, preventing too many from completing degrees. About three-fourths of those who transfer to four-year universities are non-STEM majors, he said, who should be able to demonstrate quantitative reasoning skills by taking statistics or other math courses more applicable to their fields.

California State UniversityHigher Education

Cal State trustees grapple with boosting graduation rates and enrollment

Cal State University Board of Trustees Chairwoman Rebecca Eisen, right, listens to CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Cal State University Board of Trustees Chairwoman Rebecca Eisen, right, listens to CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

About 31,000 fully qualified students were turned away from California State University for the fall term because their desired school was at capacity, administrators told trustees during a meeting Tuesday as they discussed budget challenges and new directives to increase enrollment at the largest public university system in the nation.

Although Cal State has made room for an additional 30,000 students since 2013, administrators said, the number of eligible applications continues to outpace the amount of funding provided by the state. After months of lobbying by faculty, students and staff, Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed off on a $20-million boost dedicated to increasing enrollment by about 3,000 students across the 23-campus system.

K-12LAUSD

Another jolt for L.A. schools as civic group seeks a role in fixing school district

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which just two months ago saw a pro-charter school majority elected to the Board of Education for the first time, is about to get another jolt.

Philanthropist and former investment banker Austin Beutner has assembled an advisory panel to work with Los Angeles schools Supt. Michelle King. The group, which includes business, philanthropic and community leaders, will start with the nuts-and-bolts issue of improving student attendance but intends to conduct a broad review of district operations.

Higher Education

USC president tries to quell outrage over drug allegations against former medical school dean

USC President C.L. Max Nikias (Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images)
USC President C.L. Max Nikias (Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images)

Acknowledging widespread concern on campus, USC President C.L. Max Nikias said Tuesday the university would “examine and address” a report in The Times that its former medical school dean abused drugs and associated with criminals and drug users.

Nikias, speaking about the controversy for the first time in a letter to the campus community, said that “we understand the frustrations expressed about this situation” involving Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito and “we are working to determine how we can best prevent these kinds of circumstances moving forward.”

California State UniversityHigher Education

Nazarian family donates $17 million to CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center

 (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In the 1940s, many years before he fled the Iranian Revolution and became a rich man in America, Younes Nazarian was a boy from the Jewish ghetto selling and replacing light bulbs in the alleys and bazaars of Tehran. 

That youthful enterprise eventually turned into a career manufacturing construction machinery and running an import-export business. But Nazarian’s factory and wealth were threatened by rising Islamic clerics seeking to overthrow the shah. He and his wife, Soraya, and children left their home, and by 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran, Nazarian was working on his second fortune in California.

The spirit of that reinvention as a first-generation immigrant among a growing Iranian American community prompted his family’s $17-million donation Tuesday to the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge. It is the largest single arts gift to the state university system and highlights the center’s diverse programming as a leading San Fernando Valley venue for world-class acts that resonate with the region’s evolving cultural landscape.

Higher Education

Former USC medical school dean linked to criminals and accused of drug use stops seeing patients

 (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The former dean of USC’s medical school is on leave and is no longer seeing patients after the Los Angeles Times reported that he associated with criminals and drug users who said he abused methamphetamine and other drugs, university officials said Monday.

Carmen A. Puliafito led the Keck School of Medicine for nearly a decade before resigning in 2016. 

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