Efforts to get more Los Angeles students to college got a big boost this week with the launch of an initiative to give students a free year of community college, the expansion of the GO East L.A. to 25 more schools and the start of a 7-year program to get Nightingale Middle School students to USC. (see related story by Stacey Arevalo.)
Under the program launched Tuesday by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Community College District, high school seniors attending LA Unified schools will be eligible for one year of free community college tuition starting in 2017. The initiative was inspired by America’s College Promise — a campaign spearheaded by President Barack Obama and chaired by Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
L.A.’s initiative, dubbed L.A. College Promise, “is tremendous reason to celebrate,” said Biden during Wednesday’s launch.
“We are making a declaration — an assurance that you can attend one year of school tuition-free,” Biden said.
Eligible applicants must be part of the 2017 class of graduates and qualify for in-state resident tuition, and will need to complete their FAFSA or California Dream Act applications.
“Higher education should be within reach for every student in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “The L.A. College Promise is a path for every Angeleno to earn a high school diploma and pursue the skills and education they need to realize their dreams and potential.”
LACCD Board President Scott Svonkin said the one year of free tuition now being offered to 2017 graduates “is just the beginning,” and that the eventual goal is to provide free community college to all.
The majority of the students attending LAUSD schools are Latino and on Tuesday Go East L.A. —Great Outcomes East Los Angeles— kicked off its third year with a high-energy celebration at Theodore Roosevelt High School.
Designed to promote college readiness among students attending schools in East L.A. and Boyle Heights, GO East L.A. includes a number of initiatives, including priority admission to East Los Angeles College and California State University Los Angeles.
“We are thrilled to have student leaders from across the Eastside here with us today, because this is a day to celebrate,” Board Member Mónica García told students.
GO East L.A. was piloted at Garfield High School, four middle schools and 15 elementary schools. This year, the program expands to 25 additional schools including, seven new high schools.
Information from City News Service used in this story.
After learning lead had been found at Lorena Street Elementary where her two grandchildren attend school, Rosalia Valle wanted reassurance that they would be safe and that the cleanup would begin immediately.
“I’m really worried,” the Boyle Heights resident said in Spanish. “All I can do now is tell them to stay off the dirt.”
Last week the Department of Toxic Substances Control reviewed the results of recent soil samples conducted at Lorena Street Elementary in Boyle Heights and Rowan Elementary School in East Los Angeles and determined that levels of lead at both schools were higher than the 80 parts per million the state considers safe.
DTSC recommended that the Los Angeles Unified School District temporarily fence off the areas where lead was found.
Cleanup at both schools will begin as soon as this weekend for contaminated tree wells and could continue through the end of Thanksgiving break for the grassy areas, according to LAUSD officials.
Carlos Torres, deputy director of LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, told EGP the school district plans to go beyond just covering the bare dirt and tree wells as recommended, and will instead remove and replace all the contaminated soil.
“We don’t want to worry about this in the future,” he said. “We want to make sure the campuses are safe in the long run.”
Norma Servin grew concerned about the danger to her 7-year-old when she noticed the fencing erected near the entrance to Lorena Street Elementary on Friday, and realized it was meant to keep children away from lead-contaminated soil.
“I just found out there’s lead where my daughter has attended school for years, where I dropped her off while I was pregnant,” she said, holding her baby.
Exposure to lead can lead to neurological damages in children and premature births in expectant mothers. Even low levels of lead can result in behavior and learning problem and lower IQs in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lorena, Rowan and nine other schools were originally tested by contractors hired by Exide Technologies during the summer of 2015, under orders from DTSC as part of the Exide-related cleanup. The Exide plant recycled hundreds of used lead-acid car batteries daily before it was permanently closed in March 2015, following years of illegal emissions and toxic waste violations.
At that time, levels of lead above the federal threshold of 400ppm were discovered at Eastman Elementary in East L.A., prompting the school district to quickly decontaminate the site.
“We didn’t want to wait around, we just removed the soil,” Torres told EGP this week.
DTSC has since tested an additional 11 schools within the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the Vernon plant, but no further action was required at those schools. However, before DTSC would clear the 11 schools tested by Exide contractors, they decided to re-test all the school sites, including Fishburn Elementary in Maywood, which was later cleared from requiring any soil removal.
Test conducted at Lorena and Rowan showed lead levels high enough to require intervention at those sites.
Parents, in the meantime, say they were in dark about potential lead problems at their children’s schools.
According to Torres, LAUSD sent its first notice informing parents of the test results in March. A second notice with the most recent results was sent out last week, and those results have also been posted on LAUSD’s website.
Unlike Eastman, Torres says Rowan and Lorena’s lower lead levels of about 100ppm were just slightly above the state’s hazardous threshold of 80ppm. He also noted that because the school district is conducting the cleanup instead of state regulators, a full CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review is not required.
“If we waited for that we would be looking at this being done next summer,” Torres explained.
DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice Ana Mascarenas told EGP the levels of lead found at schools were very low overall.
In comparison, “The 50 homes we have cleaned since then had the highest levels of lead, some above 1,000ppm,” she pointed out, explaining the urgency for remediating those sites first.
Assemblymember Miguel Santiago represents the area where the two impacted schools are located. He met with LAUSD and DTSC officials last week and says he received assurances that the campuses are safe at this time.
“Blocking off the areas has made the campuses safer than they were two or three weeks ago,” he told EGP. “But clean up is the long term goal.”
LAUSD estimates removing tainted soil at Eastman cost the school district thousands of dollars. It is not yet clear what the cost to clean Rowan and Lorena will come in at, however DTSC told EGP the agency fully expects the school district will seek reimbursement from the state.
“The most important priority is not who is going to pay or who is responsible, it’s the safety of the community,” said Santiago.
Watching her three children line up for class, Romero looks at her youngest child seated in a stroller and can’t help but again express her frustration and disbelief that the cleanup has not yet gotten underway.
“If lead affects children, you would think they would start the cleanup at schools” right away.
Crisis counselors were deployed at Los Angeles Unified School District schools Wednesday to foster calm a day after the LAUSD’s more than 900 campuses were kept shuttered in response to what turned out to be a bogus bomb threat.
The Los Angeles Police Department and County Sheriff’s stepped up patrols around LAUSD campuses to help allay any uneasiness among students and parents.
“As you know, L.A. Unified always puts student safety first,” LAUSD Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King said in a statement after the schools reopened. “I want to reassure students, parents, guardians, teachers and other employees that our schools are safe.”
In addition to the deployment of crisis counselors, “teachers have been provided lesson plans on how to help youngsters who may feel a little anxious or afraid,” King said Wednesday.
Superintendent of Schools Ramon Cortinez decided to close schools Tuesday and conduct an exhaustive security search of all campuses after a threat was received making reference to bombs, weapons and other destructive devices planted on campuses throughout the district. A nearly identical threat was received in New York City, where officials deemed it not credible and kept schools open.
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief, derided the L.A. closures as a “significant overreaction.” But California officialdom — both in the law enforcement and political communities — erected a solid front in support of the 83-year-old Cortines, who is due to retire next year, as he’s done once before.
Cortines said he acted out of an abundance of caution in the aftermath of terror strikes in Paris and San Bernardino, and both L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Beck expressed strong support for the decision.
“I think it’s important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” he said, speaking less than two weeks after a U.S. citizen of Pakistani background and his Pakistani wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino in the deadliest terror strike on U.S soil since 9/11. They were later killed battling police.
“There will always be temptation after a day like today to increase the blame and the anger and the vitriol and the suspicion, but what we saw today across Los Angeles was a community turning toward each other, not against each other,” LAUSD Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said Tuesday.
“And that is the spirit with which we invite all of our families, all of our kids, all of our teachers back into the LAUSD public schools tomorrow in the hope that we will never, ever have to have another day like today, and that through our children, the hope of a much better tomorrow will carry the day tomorrow, next week, next year and to our future.”
Officials said the threat came via email, apparently from or routed through Frankfurt, Germany. Beck later said the email likely originated from somewhere much closer than Europe.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said he saw the email and that the author “claims to be an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists.” He said the email referenced bombs or possible nerve agents and suggested there were about 32 people involved in possibly planting the devices.
“The text of the email does not demonstrate that the author has studied Islam or has any particular understanding of Islam,” Sherman said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the threat appeared to be a hoax.
“While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York school departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities,” he said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s closures applied to all LAUSD campuses — more than 900 of them. The district is home to about 200 charter schools that were also affected, along with dozens of educational centers. Zimmer said more than 1,500 educational sites were searched Tuesday. The district, the nation’s second biggest, serves an estimated 700,000 students.
The closure could cost the district about millions in lost Average Daily Attendance funding from the state – which is based in part on the number of students attending class on a daily basis. A drop in attendance leads to a drop in funding — and a full closure of the district for the day could be particularly costly. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said Tuesday LAUSD could lose about $29 million due to the closure, but added he will work to ensure that does not happen.
Torlakson said he instructed state DOE officials to work with LAUSD so it can qualify for relief from the loss of funding.
“We are nearly 100 percent certain that we can take the steps to restore those funds to the district,” he said.
According to the state, a district can receive special ADA credit for days lost due to an “emergency closure.”
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said the Senate staff will also work with the LAUSD to ensure that schools receive funding for the day.
“Loss of funding should never be (a) factor in keeping students safe,” de Leon said via Twitter.