Los Angeles parents who have been kept off their child's school campus because of disruptive behavior now have a way to appeal principals' decisions.
Under current California law, principals can send what are called "disruptive person letters" to parents or other adults who pose a risk to students or staff. That letter requires that if the parent wants to come to school, he or she needs to call ahead and get approval from the principal. These sanctions usually last a year.
However, some parents who have received the letters argue that they did nothing wrong beyond advocating for their child, and that some principals use the letters to silence parents who are involved in the school. They say principals have too much power in deciding who receives these letters, that the punishment is too long, and that the letters deter parents from becoming involved in their children's education.
Another problem is that it's unclear how many of these letters have been issued. Until now the district was not collecting the data centrally, said L.A. Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber.
This month Los Angeles Unified School District staff updated its policy to include an appeals process for the decisions, and to require principals to file the letters in a central district database. The update also reminds principals that they may give parents a warning before resorting to a disruptive person letter.
Now, parents can appeal the letter to the school's principal, who must respond in writing within 30 days. The parent can then appeal to the local district director, who must also respond in writing within 30 days. And while the letters can still last for up to a year, appealed letters must be reviewed every 90 school days. The policy doesn't specify who should conduct that review, though.
"When anyone comes onto our campuses and disrupts the educational processes of our students, then we are very concerned about that," Earl Perkins, the associate superintendent for district operations, told the district's Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement committee during a meeting Tuesday.
"Why do we have our panic bars facing inward instead of facing outward? … We want to keep anything that can create damage or harm our kids on the outside," Perkins told the committee.
The nonprofit advocacy group Parent Organization Network reviewed 476 letters that parents have received since 2002, most in the past four years (this is not a complete count of the letters that have been sent). According to that analysis, 82% of the letters were issued because of verbal behaviors, 35% for procedural violations like failing to sign in or recording a school event without permission, and 18% are issued to parents who approached students.
These letters make sense for people who actually pose a threat to the school, but parents shouldn't be kept off campus or made to feel unwelcome just because they voice concerns, said Araceli Simeon, the Parent Organization Network's project director. She thinks the appeals process and the record-keeping requirement are positive improvements to the district's policy, but the language in the sample letters still "presumes an adversarial relationship" between parents and school staff, Simeon said.
The district should also do a better job of clarifying the process for parents, Simeon said, and shortening the yearlong enforcement period that makes it difficult for parents who need to pick their children up from school daily.
AmberMarie Irving-Elkins and Marvin Elkins Jr. both received letters from their daughter's elementary school, Baldwin Hills Gifted/High Ability Magnet, in 2012.
Elkins received a letter first, saying he had tape recorded a School Site Council Meeting without permission. He wrote a response that Irving-Elkins distributed to teachers at the school, saying that he thought this was an unnecessary response.
After Irving-Elkins distributed the letter, she received a disruptive person letter from the principal as well, asking her to resign from any school committees and requiring her to call ahead before entering the campus.
This was necessary, the letter said, "due to the inappropriateness of your actions."
The parents' relationship with the school changed after that, the couple said.
"Drastically our volunteering was cut back," Irving-Elkins said. "To be so really involved and then to have that kind of cut off, it hurts to have to call whenever we want to come on campus and set up an appointment."
They appreciate the new policies that allow for an appeals process, but think principals who send out multiple letters should also be under scrutiny.
"The principals that are issuing them in large numbers ...they need to be reviewed," Irving-Elkins said. "It shouldn't just be to bar parents that are really involved and advocating for their children from the campus."