– Hilary Hammell, Public Advocates attorney
In return for their receipt of public funding, charter organizations are not allowed to charge parents and guardians any type of fees for their students to attend these schools. This includes forcing them to fulfill a minimum quota of “volunteer” hours. As stated by the California Charter School Association (CCSA): “it is not legal nor appropriate for a student to be excluded from a charter school or a school activity because a parent did not volunteer or make a financial contribution to their school.” Still, a 2014 report by Public Advocates “found that 168, or almost one-third of the 555 charter schools [they] surveyed, explicitly require unpaid parent or family ‘service hours.’” Included in the report’s examples were two charters authorized by the LAUSD.
The prohibitions on requiring work hours do not stop charters from doing what they can to encourage parents to volunteer. For example, Alliance Collins Family College-Ready High School tells parents and guardians in its Parent/Student Handbook that they “are encouraged to complete 40 hours of parent volunteer service…each year.” However, its full compliance with the law is called into question by the fact that it is tracking the hours that each parent serves. In what appears to be an act of public shaming, these “Parent Volunteer Hours” reports are periodically posted on the Alliance’s website.
The fact that Alliance publishes these reports in a public manner and that they include the names of each of their students also calls into question their compliance with “The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)…a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.” This law requires schools to “have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.” There are exceptions to this law such as sharing this information with “school officials with legitimate educational interest”. However, it is not clear how shaming a parent for not volunteering would fit into any of these categories.
The Alliance website is “easily readable” and publically available. It is “hiding in plain sight”, yet the LAUSD’s Charter School Division has either been unable to see it or has chosen to ignore it. It provides another example of how the Charter School Division fails at their mission of providing oversight for the public funds that charters receive.
Our oversight is “proactive and responsive.”
– Jose Cole-Gutiérrez, LAUSD Charter School Division
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. He was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com.