LAUSD board orders Supt. Cortines to analyze past misconduct incidents in the District
By Stephen Ceasar LA Times | http://lat.ms/1simatn
10 Dec, 2014 :: In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School child abuse scandal, the Los Angeles school district will analyze past incidents of misconduct to determine how to better safeguard students in the future.
The Board of Education on Tuesday approved the proposal, brought by board member Monica Ratliff, directing Supt. Ramon Cortines to analyze the circumstances of previous misconduct events — including the number of adults present during the alleged misconduct, the work history and previous complaints against the accused employee, and when and where such incidents occurred.
Ratliff initially had called for a study on the feasibility of staffing all classrooms with two adults while children are present. That idea, however, was not included in the measure that the board approved.
The move is the latest in a series of board actions following the arrest of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher for sexual misconduct in 2012 that led to changes in state law and district policies. Teacher Mark Berndt pleaded no contest last year to 23 charges of lewd conduct, including feeding children his semen in what he called a tasting game. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The L.A. Unified School District last month agreed to pay more than $139 million to settle claims related to the case, drawing to a close the lengthy case. L.A. Unified already has paid about $30 million in claims to the families of 65 Miramonte students.
Another proposal by Ratliff would have directed the superintendent to provide a report to the board detailing the district's annual expenses over the last five years for the costs of litigation, awards, settlements and other costs related to criminal actions at district schools. It would have required that the report project the costs of additional safety resources on district campuses — including more cameras, police officers and school safety officers.
But Ratliff decided to pull that measure after speakers strongly opposed additional police officers on campuses.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said students would be better served by finding ways to fund additional counselors and mental health professionals and by lowering class sizes.
"That's the report that we need generate — not something that will increase policing," he said.
Board member George McKenna signaled that he would not support the measure.
"I would not be in favor of expanding the role of police in making our schools safe," he said.
There was no discussion of the portion of the resolution that would have required an accounting of legal expenses related to recent criminal actions.
Also Tuesday, the board unanimously approved more than $11 million in additional funds to address problems caused by a new and faulty student records system.
The system caused problems districtwide this fall, with thousands of students unable to enroll in classes required for graduation or college. Teachers were unable to record attendance, and grade information was lost or corrupted.
"We are starting to see evidence that the system is stabilizing," Cortines said at the board meeting Tuesday. "We are looking at the issues that plague our schools, counselors, teachers and administration. We aren't saying they don't exist, but we are trying to resolve them."
A staff report said the system continues to have performance issues and new bugs arise on a daily basis. "The system, as it stands today, does not meet the needs of our schools," the report said.
The district has spent more than $130 million trying to develop a fully functional student records system, known as My Integrated Student Information System, or MISIS.
In other action, the board approved spending about $23.2 million for additional computers to use for students to take new state standardized tests.
The purchases are expected to include 21,665 iPads ($552 each) and separate keyboards ($29 each) as well as 7,770 Chromebooks ($305 each). The money also will cover some staffing and other costs.
The district won't purchase the new devices under a controversial, recently suspended contract for iPads that is now the subject of an FBI probe. Instead, the district will use an older, already available contract with Apple for the iPads. Chromebook contracts were negotiated recently under a separate process.
L.A. Unified and 5 other districts to ban the purchase of chicken raised with antibiotics
By Teresa Watanabe, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1sinhsZ
10 Dec 2014 :: Aiming to bolster student health, Los Angeles Unified and five other major urban school districts announced plans Tuesday to ban the purchase of chickens that have been raised with antibiotics.
The action by the Urban School Food Alliance -- which collectively buys more than $552 million of food and supplies annually to feed nearly 2.9 million students daily -- will give the food industry a major market incentive to reduce the use of antibiotics in school meals, supporters said.
The widespread presence of antibiotics in food has produced bacteria resistant to it, increasing vulnerability to disease, according to health experts. The Centers for Disease Control has called antibiotic resistance one of the world’s most pressing health problems.
“This is a critical piece of ensuring the safety of our children,” said Mark Izeman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental nonprofit that helped develop the alliance plan. “LAUSD and other districts are pushing the entire food industry to move away from chicken and other animals raised with excessive antibiotic use.”
Izeman added that healthful school food is especially critical for the largely low-income students in the six alliance school districts of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orange County in Orlando, Fla. School meals often provide more than half the food consumed by many of the students daily, he said.
The districts joined forces last year to adopt eco-friendly practices and leverage their collective purchasing power for lower prices and more healthful fare. They have replaced polystyrene and plastic with biodegradable trays and flatware, for instance.
Under the alliance plan, all chicken must be produced with no antibiotics and animal by-products in the feed, be raised on an all-vegetarian diet and treated humanely. If food vendors cannot supply the full volume of chicken under that standard, they will be required to submit a written plan on when they can meet it.
In a separate action Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously adopted a requirement that chicken purchased for school meals be free of antibiotics and hormones. The poultry rule was added to the district’s 2012 “good food” policy that encouraged more nutritious school meals, sustainable environmental practices, more purchases from small, local farmers, humane treatment of animals and safe and fair working conditions.
Laura Benavidez, L.A. Unified’s deputy food services director, said the requirement would be included in requests for proposals to supply the 2.3 million pounds of chicken purchased annually at a cost of $4.8 million. The school system serves 115 million school meals yearly, second only to New York’s 170 million. It was unclear when schools would begin serving antibiotic-free chicken.
The action marked the district’s latest move toward more healthful school meals. Over the past few years, the district has removed flavored milk from menus, banned soda in vending machines and overhauled school menus to increase fresh produce and reduce salt, added sugars and fat.
“Having antibiotic-free chicken is not a privilege, it’s a right,” Benavidez said.
LAUSD schools among first to adopt antibiotic-free chicken standards
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1siqQPW
Posted: 12/09/14, 5:22 PM PST :: Los Angeles Unified’s school board Tuesday adopted standards that poise the district to become the first to solicit food vendors for antibiotic-free chicken to serve students.
Five other large school districts will soon follow LAUSD with standards set by the Urban School Food Alliance to curtail antibiotic-resistant sicknesses, which the world’s leading health organizations have called a crisis.
“These six school districts are saying in effect, ‘we’re not going to play chicken with our children’s health, we’re going to move forward with protective standards,’” said Mark Izeman, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit health advocacy organization that helped create the standards.
To reach its goal, LAUSD will solicit offers for suppliers to provide chickens raised without antibiotics, said LAUSD’s Deputy Food Services Director Laura Benavidez. Tuesday’s board vote would only require cafeterias to serve antibiotic-free chicken if it’s available.
While raising chickens without the drugs that fight diseases inside hen houses is more expensive, demand created by LAUSD and the 700,411 meals served to students per day will create purchasing power that should force suppliers to streamline the processes and bring the price down, Benavidez said.
“We’re confident we cannot help but reduce that cost and improve availability,” Benavidez said.
Schools in Orlando will follow in the spring, and the nation’s largest district in New York City plans to implement the standards in 2016, when its current contracts for food expire. Including other districts that also plan to join the initiative — in Chicago, Dallas and Miami – more than 3 million students will have antibiotic-free chicken on their plates in the coming years, said Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education
The six districts create purchasing power, Goldstein said, that will force food suppliers to change their practices even as legislators in the nation’s capital fail to pass regulations.
“It’s incumbent for us to take the lead because nobody’s doing this for our schools,” Goldstein said. “As the leading cities in America we have to show through action that we can move forward.”
Chicago public schools encountered supply problems when officials replaced two of four monthly chicken meals with antibiotic-free meat about three years ago. However, district officials struck a deal to buy chicken legs from a nearby Amish farm that sells breasts and other parts of antibiotic-free chickens to Whole Foods and Chipotle, said Leslie Fowler, executive director of Nutritional Support Services at Chicago Public Schools.
“It means that the farm can sell the whole bird without any scraps and it gets us prices we can afford,” Fowler said. “While it’s not enough quantity for us to serve on a weekly basis or as often as we would like, it’s moving us in the right direction.”
LAUSD computer system fixes soar to another $2 million per week
The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved millions more to fix bugs in the MiSiS student data system and purchase more iPads and laptops. photosteve101/flickr
December 09, 08:10 PM :: The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.
Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.
The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.
The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.
When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system's problems could double to about $85 million.
"I still believe it will take a year to resolve the issues with MiSiS,"said Superintendent Ramon Cortines. "We are beginning, though, to see evidence the system is stabilizing."
The school board also approved $22 million ($13 million in new funds) to buy more iPads and Google Chromebooks so students can take new digital state tests in the spring. The purchase brings the number of district tablets and laptops to 120,000 – a figure that does not include equipment in computer labs, which are are not tracked in district's central inventory.
Both funding measures passed unanimously without discussion by board members, even though just a week ago the FBI seized boxes of district documents in criminal probe of the district's iPad program. The newest iPads will be purchased under another agreement than the Apple and Pearson software contract under investigation.
When students showed up for fall classes, hundreds found their class schedules had been botched by the MiSiS system. Many piled into auditoriums and cafeterias waiting days or weeks for officials to fix their schedules. At Jefferson High School in south L.A., some students waited until October and after a judge's order to get a full day of classes.
School counselors then noticed errors in students' transcripts and rushed to correct them before November college application deadlines. The district hired retired educators to help check the transcripts manually.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks at Gratts Elementary (Credit: UTLA Facebook page)
December 9, 2014 4:58 pm :: The LA Unified school board and union leaders moved today to help ensure that district schools are “safe havens” in support of President Obama‘s recent executive orders on immigration.
The orders, announced last month, potentially give deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants and their children.
A resolution introduced by board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia pledges that the district will develop a plan to assist any students needing help with immigration records or applications.
The district today also announced plans to send a letter home with students advising their their parents and guardians “to be cautious of ‘so-called ‘notaries’ and dishonest lawyers (who) prey on the hopes of individuals and families seeking a better life,” according to a district press release.
The letter was signed by representatives of LAUSD, SEIU Local 99 and UTLA. Before the board meeting, Garcia and Zimmer held a press conference with leaders of the two unions, according to the release.
“The President’s Executive Action will bring great relief to students and their families,” said SEIU Local 99 Lilia Garcia, according to the press release. “I work with our school community every day and I see how much it impacts students when their mother or father is deported. The children come to school with fear or sadness. The President’s action will mean more stability for families, and this will mean students can focus on their education. I am proud that our union will be working with the District to ensure that parents can access information and resources in our schools.”
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl also pledged the union’s support in the release, saying, “As educators, we care about the whole child— not only their academic achievements, but also the social and economic wellbeing of our students. We support the School Board’s resolution on immigration reform and accountability. Students and their parents need our help and we are ready to do all we can inside and outside of the classroom.”