Coalition of parents with OUSD students needed

By Darris Lange
Although my children (elementary and middle-school-aged) are newcomers to the public schools in Ojai, I am a long-term Ojai resident.
I have seen the positive benefits of parents having a solid voice in collaborative decisions affecting the student body in a private school. I feel that the parent/student voice is muted in our government-led public schools in Ojai.
A primary issue I find lacking at the district level is the limited platforms for direct collaborative communication between parents/students and the district (teachers, administration, and board). The fact that I am defining the above in two groups instead of all as equal members of a collective is a significant setback in the school district's mission and further development.
Without direct student/parent involvement regarding students' needs (academic and social-emotional), opportunities are missed.
There is no school district, teachers or board without students. If concerns are not addressed, families that positively contribute to the school community often take their children elsewhere. Currently, parents who want to participate in important student-parent issues directly are limited to writing public comments at live-streamed school board meetings.
I am aware of school committees that provide participation of one to two parents. However, it seems odd that a school employee can be assigned to one of those parent seats. While acknowledging school employees are parents, I think those seats were intended for perspective from parents who are not school district employees.
When I submit a public comment or direct a message to administration staff, it is to share insight and perspective as a parent of students attending public school and not stir controversy.
At the April 20 in-person school board retreat, one topic was the perception of the school district’s performance over the past year. An important topic to me was communication. There was no general consensus on the district’s performance regarding communication with stakeholders. Perhaps this is because some trustees do not have students enrolled in OUSD schools. One trustee expressed concern about full transparency regarding district decisions.
I found the information at the retreat, including discussion of board procedures, engaging. As a parent with children in the OUSD. I felt represented by the outside facilitator's questions as well. However, the communiqué for group discussion excluded the involvement/participation of stakeholders. For example:
— The stage was set with participants’ backs to the public and press. There was no view of the presenter or the easel on which action items were listed.
— Many people have lost businesses, are unemployed, and are resigned to stay at home to supplement their children's partial-day education at school. Teachers are juggling online distance learning schedules and in-person learning every day. The first goal for fiscal year 2021-22 to provide existing staff with raises and add two new executive staff positions with salaries double that of many existing tenured teachers does not make sense. OUSD needed to increase salaries to attract and hire more teachers and provide the means to reduce class sizes and assign teachers to work with only one of the two student cohorts — on-campus and distant learners — so students can more readily return to a full-day school schedule.
— Last, there was a discussion about OUSD relationships with Ojai city officials and the press, but no mention of OUSD’s relationship with students and parents. I understand the OUSD Parent Advisory Committee was dissolved within days after this retreat, without public notice. One trustee expressed concern about letters to the editor critical of OUSD in the OVN. Perhaps, there is no other medium for parents and stakeholders to voice their school-related experiences at this time.
To close let me highlight an excerpt from the most recent addendum to the memorandum of understanding between OUSD and the Ojai Federation of Teachers regarding COVID-19:
“OFT and District conduct joint site walk-through to ensure site safety plans are fully implemented and all items in MOUs are addressed.”
As a property owner and parent here in Ojai, I do not feel represented in this contract. The stakeholders' voices have been stifled at board meetings and policy changes. It is time to form an elected “Parents With OUSD Students Coalition,” co-equal with the Board of Education and OUSD that will participate in COVID-19 policy changes and initiatives over the next few years.

— Darris Lange lives in Ojai.