A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

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A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

Parents strike against “reconfiguration” of several HLPUSD schools

A first-person perspective on the parent strike to HPLUSD closing schools
Parents+and+community+members+gather+at+La+Puente+Park+to+speak+out+against+school+closures.
Jacob Bertram
Parents and community members gather at La Puente Park to speak out against school closures.

I was not sure what to expect when I first stepped into the Hacienda-La Puente Unified district office on the evening of Oct. 26.

Aside from an unusually large crowd of parents and children stationed on the edge of the sidewalk, holding signs that read “Save our schools,” it appeared to be business as usual working the school board beat. But that night, just about every night since following the HLPUSD, has been anything but.

Before the open session began, I tried to get my finger on the pulse of the crowd. I came to learn from district stakeholder Manuel Maldonado that the garrison of community members in attendance had mobilized to fight back against the district’s “reconfiguration” proposal.

When asked to clarify what he meant by “reconfiguration,” Maldonado shook his head and said, “Exactly.”

Maldonado went on to explain that the “reconfiguration” was legal speak for the district’s plan to close Los Robles, Sunset, Del Valle and Bixby elementary schools. Additionally, the “reconfiguration” was to turn Lassalette and Valinda middle schools into K-5 establishments.

He then assured me that I was not alone in needing clarification and that, up until just a few weeks prior, many of the families that would be affected were completely unaware of the proposed school closures.


“For so many of us, the first time we heard [it] was from our kids coming home crying ‘Mom! Mom! They’re going to close our schools.’’

— Rosalba Meza

Rosalba Meza, a mother with two children attending Valinda school, seemed to confirm Maldonado’s claim.

However, Meza remained hopeful that during public comment she, and many other estranged parents, would have an opportunity to voice their concerns.

That did not happen. Public comment on “reconfiguration” was reduced to one minute per speaker, and tensions boiled over after adequate in-person translation services were not provided to Spanish-speaking families.

An unlawful assembly was declared by District Chief of Police and Board President Christine Salazar, the police were called and civilians were removed from the district office.

After Salazar called an end to the recess, parents and students were denied re-entry except for public comment. Time to speak was then further reduced to 30 seconds, as families watched the meeting huddled together via Zoom on the front lawn of the district office, as temperatures dropped to 58 degrees.

The night ended with the censure of Board Vice President Stephanie Serrano and parents remained unsure that their voices would be heard regarding school closure.

The following morning, I met with local activist and paralegal Samuel Brown Vasquez. He told me that the community was fed up with the gaslighting on the part of the district.

“How the hell are you supposed to get your point across in 30 seconds?”

— Samuel Brown Vasquez

 

Vasquez claimed that the events of the previous meeting had included multiple violations of the Brown Act. He then told me that what had transpired the previous night was nothing new for the Hacienda-La Puente community. The primarily Latino families of Valinda and La Puente have faced a long history of inequity and misrepresentation within the district.

Vasquez said that he, and many other parents, were forming a new community coalition. They would host their own town hall at the City of Industry community center the following Sunday, Nov. 5.

It was at this meeting that HLPUSD parents decided it was time to strike. When word spread about the walkout, the district emailed parents discouraging them from pulling their kids from class.

The following Wednesday, over 200 parents pulled their children out of school and marched to the La Puente City Hall, demanding their voices be heard. There was clear mistrust between the community and the district.

“The board claims to be there for the students, but it seems like they’re just there for a profit,” Valinda’s parent Robert Serrano said, alluding to the district’s “shady” sale of two other closed schools to luxury condo developer Lennar Homes back in 2022.

Many parents demanded answers as to why their schools, which are all in working-class primarily Latino neighborhoods, are being shut down and denied programs that could help them thrive while Wedgeworth Elementary, which is a newer development in a privileged neighborhood of Hacienda Heights, is receiving nearly $70 million in renovations.

A notion parroted by recently censured board member Serrano, who was the only district official in attendance.

The following day, Thursday, Nov. 9, the board reconvened to vote on school closure and the cycle repeated. Public comment was once again reduced to 30 seconds, an unlawful assembly was declared, police were called and the community was removed from the district office.

“I’m not satisfied with what’s going on, they’re violating our rights.”

— Maria Abrego

Maria Abrego, a parent from Grandview, claimed that the notice posted on ParentSquare was not adequate clarification on the realities of configuration. “They’re hiding something, and we want to know why they aren’t telling us.”

Another community member, Anita Morales, addressed Board President Salazar during public comment. “I am absolutely disappointed in how you have silenced the voices of our community,” she said. “When the community starts doing the recalls, I’ll be one of the ones to sign it.”

Over 30 community members spoke during public comment, none were in favor of reconfiguration.

In a PowerPoint presentation, the district claimed that they are closing schools to address declining enrollment which they attribute to concurrently declining birth rates in the U.S. It is not unheard of for districts facing financial distress to close schools and reconsolidate teachers, resources, enrichment programs and funding to those that remain.

However, the board stated multiple times during the meeting that HLPUSD is not in any financial distress, raising even more questions as to why schools are being closed.

Several questions remain unanswered after the conclusion of the Hacienda-La Puente School District’s nine-hour board meeting that resulted in the declaration of an unlawful assembly, police intervention, and a 3-2 vote from the board to close 4 elementary schools.

After the meeting’s adjournment at 2:43 a.m. Friday morning, one thing was abundantly clear: there is a serious disconnect between the Hacienda La Puente Unified Board of Education and the communities they are elected to represent.

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    Sonia HolguinDec 6, 2023 at 10:30 pm

    So sad they are closing schools especially when they have plans to build a new one. It just doesn’t make sense.

    Reply