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Errors in planning, communication likely led parents at Monte Vista to file restroom complaint

Errors in planning, communication likely led parents at Monte Vista to file restroom complaint
An edifice near Monta Vista Elementary School in La Crescenta. Parents with children at the school have filed a Williams complaint against the Glendale Unified School District, saying the district hasn't provided adequate restrooms for some of its kids. (Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

Rapid expansion, leadership changes and a communications breakdown the past few years may have pushed some Monte Vista Elementary parents to seek answers through a complaint filed last month against the Glendale Unified School District.

On March 7, a group of Monte Vista parents alleged students, primarily those in the dual-immersion Korean Foreign Languages Academy of Glendale, or FLAG, program lacked adequate restroom facilities as part of what is known as a Williams complaint.

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The hardships were allegedly worse for kindergartners, who either walked long distances to reach a restroom, avoided the facilities altogether, urinated on themselves or even used diapers.

The complaint also states the restrooms for the older girls need at least two more stalls in order to be compliant with California’s required ratio of one stall per 30 girls.

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District personnel last week denied knowing about any students wearing diapers and did not have evidence of a higher-than-normal number of children urinating on themselves.

Glendale Unified officials have 60 days to respond to the complaint.

What district staff and some school board members did acknowledge, however, were shortcomings related to Monte Vista’s bungalows.

Seven of the school’s 12 FLAG classes use bungalows, and plans to replace those portables have fallen through the cracks, according to school officials.

While holding a copy of a February 2016 plan over his head during a special meeting on March 26, Greg Krikorian, school board president, said, “Even in here, it even identifies Monte Vista and Glenoaks [elementary schools] as future projects for long-term plans.”

Stephen Dickinson, the district’s chief business and financial officer, said proposals had been talked about even before he arrived at the district in April 2017.

“I’ve seen the reference to a $10-million estimate for the Monte Vista replacement of bungalows,” Dickinson said during the special meeting on March 26. “That’s been referenced for years.”

Krikorian mentioned plans had been kicked around during the terms of previous chief business officers Eva Lueck and Robert McEntire and interim officer Cheryl Plotkin, who took over for McEntire in August 2016 and held the post temporarily until Dickinson was hired.

“There’s a transition when Eva Lueck and Robert McEntire were here,” Krikorian said. “There was a gap when Mr. McEntire left. It took a little while to find a [chief business officer].”

Krikorian added, “This is a fact now, and I’m noticing these gaps. A lot of these questions and things we’re asking were already delineated. When there was a transition of leadership, there’s some communication gaps that happened with some of this information. That’s a fact.”

The district has aggressively eliminated bungalows using local Measure S bond funds and state overcrowding relief grants.

“Over the past few years, older bungalows have been replaced with new buildings at 13 GUSD school sites,” the district’s communications director, Kristine Nam, said in an email.

She added, “Now that older bungalows on other GUSD campuses have been replaced, the bungalows at Monte Vista and Glenoaks elementary schools are among the oldest in the district.”

Monte Vista did not qualify for a state overcrowding grant, according to Dickinson.

“It had to be a site that was fairly limited on space already and didn’t have much play space,” Dickinson said. “That’s why several sites that do have portables, like Monte Vista and Glenoaks, did not qualify.”

Although it is believed Monte Vista has had bungalows since 1993, the school brought some as recently as 2015.

The bungalows became invaluable after the introduction of the Korean FLAG program, which Krikorian championed back in 2010.

Since that year’s first kindergarten cohort, Monte Vista’s population has grown from 585 students during the 2010-11 school year to 811 this school year, according to figures from the California Department of Education.

The Williams complaint states many FLAG students suffered without additional restrooms, let alone permanent classrooms.

According to the complaint, some students have had to traverse considerable distances to use a restroom, such as the 100-yard walk from Elizabeth Nakano’s third-grade class to the nearest girls’ facility.

In the case of FLAG kindergartners in the bungalows, students in Stella Kim’s and Ann-Marie Fong’s classes do not have bathrooms installed in their classrooms, as is the case in Beth Hank’s permanent structure for her kindergarten class.

Nam countered that, “prior to this winter, there has never been a request from staff or parents for updated bathroom facilities at Monte Vista.”

Nonetheless, she said the district committed $18,000 to bungalow “beautification projects” at Monte Vista in January, which will be done this spring and summer.

For the short term, district officials may consider “adding bathroom structures closer to the bungalows or moving classrooms with younger students from bungalows into the main building,” Nam said.

As for long-term plans, Krikorian said Glendale Unified will hold off on establishing those until the district hires a new facilities manager.

“Once we get him or her involved … the team will take a helicopter view and talk to our stakeholders, too,” he said.

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