The Spangler Decision
Pasadena's attendance woes began in the 1960's with enclaves of families being directed by "logistics" to attend schools in their neighborhoods. The civil rights movement may have desegregated public schools, but neighborhood logistics defined where they would actually attend classes. Those logistics were not generally fair, and the kids figured it out. In 1968 a group of Pasadena students challenged both the status quo and the district over the Constitutionality of what they considered to be segregation.
The courts agreed with the students and ruled that PUSD had failed to adopt a desegregation plan (click here). Pasadena City School District et al., Petitioners, v. Nancy Anne SPANGLER et al. would finally bring a resolution of sorts. Pasadena would become the first western school district to be desegregated after Brown Vs. the Board of Education.
"Ultimately in 1970, the District Court, holding that the defendants' educational policies and procedures violated the Fourteenth Amendment, enjoined the defendants from failing to adopt a desegregation plan, ordered them to submit a plan for desegregating the Pasadena schools which would provide that beginning with the 1970-1971 school year there would be no school "with a majority of any minority students," and retained jurisdiction so as to see that such a plan was carried out. The defendants did not appeal from this decree, and subsequently submitted the "Pasadena Plan," which was approved by the District Court."
As of late, the fine folks at PUSD have begun to try and repair the district's forever tarnished reputation, brought about by its horrendous system of documentation. Besides the especially sloppy record keeping in special education, it has been even worse in the matter of student attendance records. PUSD is now trying to remedy this by declaring an all out war on its families.
Busing Deux (or Don't)
For the last few years PUSD has been a district sans bus transportation for its students. This is not to be confused with mandatory busing associated with desegregation that I discussed earlier. At least not on the surface. You may recall that the city pretended to remedy all of that with redistricting. That is why we in Sierra Madre almost lost our voice on the school board. Of course, in 2015 we still might.
No, the busing we now lack was not the busing of the past - busing designed for desegregation. This most recent incarnation of busing was designed for transporting students from overpopulated area schools to those with some space. That kind of busing was cut out of the budget.
Never mind that there are school closures based on building instability or declining enrollment. The kids still need to go to school, right? Isn't that in the United States Constitution or something? Oh that's right, it's not. That's a state thing, and by God, they'd better get there. Even if a school is nowhere near their homes.
PUSD Declares All-Out War on its Parents
"Among school districts, three of the five elementary campuses with truancy rates at 90% or higher were in the Pasadena Unified School District, where the overall truancy rate increased to 66% last year from 17% in 2008-09. Eric Sahakian, Pasadena's director of child welfare, attendance and safety, said "dramatic budget cuts" in staff handling attendance as well as financial hardship among families during the recession contributed to the district's elevated rates. The system has launched a new attendance improvement plan this year." - Los Angeles Times, 9/30/13 (link)
So apparently the ball has been put back into the court of the parents to get their children to school. Naturally, that is our responsibility. We are parents. But what does a family do if it is not practical - or even possible - to accomplish this requirement? It is mandated that we send them to school. Private school is not always an option.
What does a family with one parent do? What if the family lacks for adequate transportation altogether? What about financially strapped and struggling families, or working families? Should they quit their jobs so that they can jockey their kids all over Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre? This is clearly unfair when the children all go to different schools that are miles apart, and when those schools all start at the same exact time.
The only families that this is truly fair for are those families who have a nearby school that they can access. Or for families with lots of extended family support. Or families with lots of money. Money always helps. Ask a rich person if you don't believe me.
Nearby schools. Money. Extended support networks. Unfortunately, these are not universally available. Once again, the victims in this will be the poor, and the working class.
One group that the current system is fair for, however, are PUSD employees. It is fair for PUSD teachers. If you are a PUSD teacher, you can count on an enrollment perk. You can send your kids to the school of your choice, and you have a priority status. Don't believe me? Ask my favorite first grade teacher over at Sierra Madre Elementary.
PUSD multiple-scheduling is only meant to confound the rest of us. You know, the consumers. And when it becomes painfully clear that we can't manage the impossible, they send us threatening letters warning us that we are creating a generation of truant children.
That's right. We parents can get ourselves into big trouble with The Man because our kids are habitually late. That is because those tardies can be turned into absences, and those absences can turn into truants. Sacramento awards no state education money for that one.
There's not much you can do about it but surrender. Even then there is no promise that there won't be some clerical errors.
And, lest we forget: The City of Pasadena and the PUSD are buddies, remember? Community schools, mental health, and other healthcare and social services bind them together. So if you are naughty you could find yourself on the receiving end of a SART, a SARB or, if you are really lucky, you'll get to spend some time with the District Attorney.
I will discuss that a little more later.