By Alfredo Santana
LYNWOOD — A panel with a former Lynwood High School administrator, a teacher, community activists and parents of current students floated the idea to form an oversight committee to make the Lynwood Unified School District more accountable in the way money for repairs is approved, and explore ways to improve education amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The online gathering was organized to discuss how shifting classes from Lynwood High to Hosler and Cesar Chavez middle schools would affect students, parents and families, following the indefinite closure of Lynwood High School due to the collapse of ceilings in the G building last summer.
Mary Johnson, president of Parent-U-Turn and a community activist, told the participants that area residents consider the leadership at Lynwood Unified School District delayed releasing the building’s controversial news to the community until the new year to exercise damage control.
“We felt that the district acted too late to communicate with us,” Johnson said. “Particularly after the [school board’s] election.”
Johnson claimed the district engaged in a public relations campaign by reeling in district graduates to help them clean the stained image in the aftermath of the high school’s closure in a video posted on its website.
The video shows current students and graduates who work as staff members speaking about positive aspects the move would bring to the community, district spokesperson Amanda Nieto said.
Nieto said the video was filmed to bring accounts about experiences and expectations on the former high school facilities, and nobody outside the city joined in the recording.
Andrea Marin, the mother of a Lynwood High student, said the district has confirmed her on will attend Hosler Middle School, while the district rolls out a plan to revamp the campus’ facilities and add bungalows to hold in-person classes for 1,000 students switched due to the structural damages.
“They are moving students to the middle school, and bringing former school grads who say how great it is to come back to the old campus,” Marin said.
Johnson suggested that a coalition of parents and teachers should examine all campus structures and search for weak and unsafe facilities at least once a month when traditional teaching resumes.
Retired teacher and former Lynwood High dean Linda George criticized the way District Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite and the school board hired contractors to evaluate the G-building, to test structural safety campuswide and to remove trash without community input.
“The way they prioritized and spend the money is the main issue,” George said. “It’s the way it is prioritized by the superintendent and the school district.”
In a statement, the district said in “an overabundance of caution” it acted quickly to hire an independent structural engineer to assess the building’s safety while investigating the cause of the ceiling collapse last June 16.
“Community input was not requested at this time, given the time and safety concerns,” the statement said.
The district set special board meetings on June 24 and July 19 to address the emergency. Families have been kept informed about the structural issue as the investigation continues, the statement continued.
The Lynwood Unified School District hired AP Construction for $748,000 on Oct. 8 to collect and demolish the unhinged ceiling soffits and faulty aluminum brackets at three classroom buildings, as part of the repair project.
In addition, Fast Track Construction was hired for $330,000 to complete Part B, including removal and elimination of soffits and aluminum shafts from the performing arts center, the gym, the library, the administration, food services, the J building’s east covered walkway and ceilings at the shower and locker rooms.
Another expense the board incurred is that of Petra Structure Engineers for $30,000, which called for running safety tests and writing a report on all structural damages that need repairs. TYR Inc. also was contracted for $12,600 to certify the inspection and the emergency removal of all defective panels.
Julian del Real-Calleros, who said he worked as a Lynwood substitute teacher and now teaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District, underscored the need for teachers and school officials to address students struggling with relatives who have died from COVID-19.
As the disease toll mounts in Lynwood, a city besieged by widespread infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Calleros suggested that online teachers should give breaks to students coping with loss and be sensitive when grading homework and tests.
“Teachers must have empathy for these students,” Calleros said. “Do not lock assignments. We need to give them space, because people are dying left and right.”
In response, the district said it has monitored and evaluated grading practices and made adjustments as needed, and adopted a socio-emotional curriculum to support students.
At a December board meeting, the school district passed a new grading policy called equitable grading resolution, allowing students to receive additional support and extended time on assignments due to hardship, wuth the consent of teachers.
The district also has partnered with the Paper Education Company to offer online tutoring for struggling students. Furthermore, the district’s hybrid instruction model is being refined to provide flexibility for students and families, and is “preparing campuses for the safe return of students,” the statement concluded.
However, nurse and local resident Madame Cohee said study areas should be disinfected every two hours to block viruses from building up and becoming a serious threat to people.
“I am a nurse, and I know we have to clean our units every two hours” to keep areas virus-free, Cohee said. “I say this because I know the place would be” full of germs.
School districts can restart personal teaching with the caveat of submitting a plan to the state and county that address social distancing among students, continuous face coverings and barring children from mixing with others outside their classrooms.
Cohee underscored the urgency to treat “the trauma COVID has caused to these kids,” and asked teachers to be nimble while online and in-person curricula evolves, as many parents will not give students permission to attend classrooms until all adults are vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19, and heard immunity is achieved.
Cohee and Johnson advised school leaders to create therapy groups with sensible psychologists to aid the children mourning relatives and help them deal with issues pertaining to crowded housing, and where parents may not be skillful to assist with English homework because they may be immigrants from Mexico and are not proficient in the language.
“We got to find safety to continue these works while at the same time they get ready to go back to school. And schools have to work to address the trauma,” Cohee said.
Also, the announced high school shift prompted school officials to beef up security with more sheriff’s deputies making rounds at Hosler and Cesar Chavez campuses, and to shield communities from crime due to an uptick in gang activities.
George said she would oppose the police’s presence on campus when in-person instruction resume because “cops often generate more violence than peace among youth.”
Johnson pledged to continue community gatherings and bring the issues before the board, so candidates seeking voters’ support for reelection can address what is at stake, or be replaced by new members with cohesive platforms.