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L.A. school board OKs plan to resolve Jefferson High problems

L.A. school board OKs plan to resolve Jefferson High problems
The Los Angeles Unified School District will spend $1.1 million to help students make up for lost instructional time. (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday approved a $1.1-million plan to provide a longer school day, additional classes and tutoring to Jefferson High students who lost instructional time as a result of widespread scheduling problems this semester.

Officials also announced that the Los Angeles Unified School District would audit other high schools to find additional students who might have been similarly shortchanged.

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The controversy with the scheduling problems at Jefferson adds another layer to the intrigue surrounding L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, whose job evaluation is scheduled for next week.

A majority of school board members have signaled to insiders that they could support the departure of Deasy, either through a resignation or buyout. Earlier this month, the board authorized its legal staff to initiate discussions over a possible departure agreement.

His contract — and preparation for his evaluation — were on the agenda Tuesday for a closed-door meeting, along with other matters.

The board remained in closed session for six and a half hours, delaying the start of a public meeting. Members made no announcement upon convening into open session for several hours. They were expected to return to closed session for additional deliberation late Tuesday evening.

Some board members and other critics have faulted the superintendent for what happened when Jefferson opened this fall.

"We have to do better at this side of the table," said board member George McKenna, referring to senior staff, and, implicitly, to Deasy.

Deasy is out of town on a previously planned trip to South Korea. Before he left, he offered a sworn declaration on behalf of students suing over conditions at Jefferson.

Some board members have criticized Deasy for getting involved without clearing it and for focusing on the lawsuit rather than on doing more to address problems at Jefferson.

Hundreds of students had incomplete or incorrect schedules. Many lost two to three weeks of instruction waiting in the auditorium, and then many were programmed into schedules that still had mistakes. The result was that students fell behind in course work they needed to graduate or to complete college preparatory requirements.

The remedy will include extending the school day by 30 minutes. In addition, teachers will be paid for up to two hours per week to provide tutoring before and after school. Counselors will be freed from lunch and playground supervision, so they can provide more counseling. And new class sections will be offered to students to replace non-academic classes. These non-academic periods include students assigned to run errands for staff or to spend time off campus unsupervised.

Officials also insisted that conditions at Jefferson had been mostly dealt with even before last week's court order.

As of Tuesday, the district identified eight students who lacked classes they needed to graduate. Forty-three other students were improperly placed in courses they'd already passed, said Tommy Chang, a senior administrator.

The scheduling flaws were not unique to Jefferson, which is south of downtown. Many campuses also dealt with major hitches caused by a new student records system that was activated before it was ready.

Board members Tuesday criticized that rollout and asked the district's inspector general to broaden a probe into what went wrong.

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The technology fiasco came at a bad time for Deasy, who already was under scrutiny for a districtwide iPad program for students. The inspector general also is looking into that project, and Deasy intends to launch a new bidding process.

The scheduling challenges at Jefferson were exacerbated by administrative turnover as well as by glaring errors in the first master schedule, officials acknowledged.

With the help of advocates, Jefferson students and teachers took their complaints to court, joining a lawsuit over non-academic classes that was filed in Alameda County.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. chastised L.A. Unified for allowing problems to persist and last week ordered the state to intervene. A state delegation came to Los Angeles for meetings and praised the proposed plan Tuesday.

Advocates insisted that the fixes don't go far enough and that too many students still could be forced to waste time taking non-academic classes or courses they'd already passed.

"Content-free classes and an education are an oxymoron," said attorney Mark Rosenbaum. "The state should ban these classes tomorrow."

Some students expressed ongoing concerns in public comments to the board.

"All that lost time adds up," senior Jason Magana said. "I will leave Jefferson High School with my diploma. But so many Jefferson students don't."

Twitter: @howardblume

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