Natalie Morales and other sixth-graders sing to their teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.
After Miramonte School's recent scandals, LAUSD has responded by firing two teachers accused of engaging in lewd conduct with students and replacing the entire 130-person staff. Prosecutors have charged the fired teachers with lewd conduct toward students.
While some parents have urged the district to shut the school down, and others have tried to transfer their kids elsewhere, the wholesale removal of teachers, secretaries and custodians has sparked a backlash, and reduced Cristina Mercado’s 6-year-old to tears.
Through fits of sobbing, the child said in Spanish that she wants her teacher, Ms. Claustro, to stay with her always ("Ms. Claustro – yo la quiero siempre con migo!")
Mercado rubbed her daughter’s back, trying to soothe her and to curb her own anger over the district’s decision to relocate the entire staff at the same school she attended as a young girl.
"It’s not fair," said Mercado. "Just because [there are] two bad teachers doesn’t mean that all the teachers are the same. It’s not fair. And not only for us, especially for the kids cause it’s going to be hard for them to have new teachers."
Mercado is one of 60 parents who gathered on the lawn of the brightly painted school that’s experienced a lot of darkness in the last week. They protested the district’s decision not to include them in a conversation about what to do next.
"What, our opinion doesn’t matter?" asked Mercado rhetorically, summing up the feelings of many parents. "We don’t count?"
L.A. Unified officials say they’d intended to reassure parents that their children would be safe, especially after many had accused the school system of failing to protect them. But some parents maintained that the abrupt change in personnel will further traumatize students.
"By switching out all the staff, it’s not going to solve anything," according to James Alvaro. Alvaro is with a nonprofit helping to organize parents. He gathered a petition as they stood before the school and says the parents want annual background checks for the teachers.
"They want everything to be filtered," he explained. "Tested psychologically, ethically... and criminal background checks. Just to make sure that the right teachers are here and the bad teachers are gone."
L.A. Unified has never shut down a school and relocated an entire staff. The plan is to relocate the Miramonte employees to a school under construction so they won’t have contact with students until an internal investigation is over.
School district officials said many of the staff could return to Miramonte after questioning. But until then, formerly laid off teachers and workers on a rehiring list will replace the staff.
Outside the school, a group of girls huddled beneath a palm tree, waving up at teachers whenever they caught a glimpse of one through an open window. "We really love our teachers a lot," said Natalie Morales, a sixth-grader at the school.
When one of their favorites, Mr. Rodriguez, poked his head out a window they launched into one of his favorite songs — Katy Perry's "Firework."
Reports have also surfaced of an earlier incident involving a one-time Miramonte employee. Ricardo Guevara, a former teacher's aide there, is serving 15 years to life in prison after his conviction almost seven years ago for committing lewd acts with children. L.A. Unified paid more than a million-and-a-half dollars to the families of three students in that incident.