My daughters have been in LAUSD (the Los Angeles public school system) for most of their school career, but it wasn’t until this school year that I felt strong enough to make myself heard. Most of that came from needing to get used to being a single mom first. Now that I’m nearing my 4-year anniversary of that particular title, I’ve found my confidence and strength to do what’s necessary.
This first part in the series has to do with the after-school program. We’d moved into a different school neighborhood so the girls started a new school in LAUSD this past September. I work full-time so I rely on the after-school programs to care for my daughters in the three+ hours following the last school bell until I can pick them up after work. This year, the girls are in a school that offers a free program through LAUSD called LA’s Best. Upon registering my girls in their new school, I’d tried to get in touch with the program, but all I ever got was voice mail.
On the first day of school, I learned that L.A.’s Best wouldn’t actually be starting until the following week, and that the program would only accept students that had been in the previous year’s program so my daughters would be placed on the waiting list since they hadn’t gone to that school in the previous year.
There was a back-up, the Youth Services playground. But that closed at 5:30, which meant I had to leave work a few minutes early every day to get there in time. Then, it was discovered that my youngest daughter was in 1st grade, and Youth Services only took 2nd graders and up. Now I had no place that would care for my daughters after school.
I went to see the principal the next day. At first, I was told she was “too busy” to see me. I explained that I was busy, too, but I made it very clear that I was not leaving until I spoke to someone in authority. Once they saw they weren’t getting rid of me, I was allowed to see the vice principal.
The vice principal went into a complaint about a lack of resources, but that wasn’t an acceptable response. She finally agreed to allow my 1st grader to keep going to Youth Services until I could get them into LA’s Best. After working for lawyers for the past three years, I’ve learned that when “no” is unacceptable, it’s possible to get that “no” turned into some sort of “yes.”
When I got into work, and after leaving my 3rd voicemail at LA’s Best, I wrote a letter explaining in great detail my dilemma. I faxed it to LA’s Best, with a copy to the LAUSD Board President, my local LAUSD Board member, L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, California’s First Lady Maria Shriver, and (just for good measure), Gubernatorial candidate at the time, Phil Angelides.
Hours later, LA’s Best called to inform me that my daughters could join the program the following day.
While I was mostly relieved, there was a part of me that was even more frustrated. Frustrated that our system can only handle the loudest complaints, that it’s stuck in the ’50’s where they still expect at least one parent to be available during working hours (even though the majority of parents work), that our students aren’t nearly equipped to survive this global economy, and that most of what I hear from LAUSD as a whole is more about what we as parents need to do to help them rather than what LAUSD is doing to support us.
I am grateful, however, that I’ve grown my backbone and won’t lie down when my family’s needs aren’t being met. I’m through with “being nice” and intimidated by the system. As more articles will reveal, I believe in the power of the written word to make a difference. And it has.