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Practice Makes Perfect--at the Right Site : Vocational students shouldn’t be made to work at the homes of LAUSD employees

When the principal of the West Valley Occupational Center, an adult school, needed major landscaping and a new irrigation system at his home, he paid for the plants and the parts and the students did the work free. What a bargain! Students of course need to practice what they are learning in school, but they should not be asked to do so at the home of any school official or teacher. Such a cozy situation is ripe for abuse.

There are plenty of public places for vocational students to practice. For starters, they could beautify and make repairs at hundreds of public school campuses. That would make a big difference at schools where maintenance has been postponed for years because of the Los Angeles district’s ongoing financial pressures.

The unions may have something to say about an arrangement like that, but some campuses have already taken advantage of free labor. West Valley students landscaped parts of the Cleveland and Aliso high school campuses. The students benefited, and so did the schools.

Landscaping students also could practice their skills at public parks within the district if union rules permitted.

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Sid Thompson, superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, agrees that new guidelines are needed. The district is formulating rules that would prohibit students from working at the home of any district employee. School staff would be allowed, like members of the public, to get tuneups, brake jobs and the like on campus. Thompson is recommending that vocational students not be allowed to work at the homes of school district employees. Good.

Several school board members have also expressed concern. Board President Mark Slatkin favors new guidelines, as do two new board members--David Tokofsky and George Kiriyama, who is especially knowledgeable about this issue because he is also a principal of an adult vocational school. The board should take a lesson from other school districts, like Burbank, that don’t use student labor at the homes of staff.

State law doesn’t allow students of public vocational schools to be paid for learning on the job. That’s a reasonable law. Profit isn’t the goal of public trade schools, which train students 18 or more years old. The students can’t be held liable for their work, which they may take longer to complete, and which may even need to be redone. After all, they are just learning.

Trade students need hands-on training, but no one should be allowed to take advantage of them. They are learning at public expense, and the public, especially the public schools, should benefit.

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