Student leaders who have created a new student union at Venice High School are accusing the school’s administration of trying to block their attempts to launch their organization.
But Lonnie Wallace, principal at the high school, said that she is willing to allow the students to proceed with the new club, provided that it is in compliance with the criteria that is required of other organizations and clubs.
“There is a process for any student group that wants to be recognized on campus,” Wallace explained during an interview with The Argonaut. “They are required to submit a constitution to both the student body and the administration and to also have a sponsor.”
The principal said that the student leaders to date have refused to comply with those guidelines and that is what is preventing the new organization, called the Venice Student Union, from being officially recognized.
“Those are the rules that every other group has to abide by,” Wallace said.
The members of the student body who formed the Venice Student Union counter that the administration is seeking to thwart their efforts because of an action they took on May 15th.
A sit-in demonstration was organized by several student leaders to protest the decision by Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant that disallowed a planned one-day strike by members of United Teachers Los Angeles, who were planning to protest the loss of thousands of teachers’ jobs.
The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education authorized the possible termination of more than 5,000 teachers in March due to an estimated $718-plus million deficit. Since the vote, over 1,360 educators have accepted early retirement, nearly 2,000 layoff notices of permanent teachers were rescinded and more than $131 million has been cut from LAUSD’s budget.
The idea for a new student union to make students more informed on economic and academic matters was born out of the protest.
A Venice High student organizer expressed her satisfaction with the protest, despite the administration’s ambivalence to the sit-in.
“I participated in the demonstration because I feel that public education is an important part of what sets our country apart from the rest,” said Alyssa Wood, 17, a senior. “When public education is attacked, the community is attacked.”
Elliot Goldstein, a senior who also helped spearhead the May 15th demonstration and is one of the founders of the Venice Student Union, said that the union’s constitution was ratified by its members at an education summit on May 29th at the high school and that they had acquired a sponsor for the group.
“We’re hoping that the administration will see that we have an organization that is well informed and that represents the views of a lot of the students,” said Goldstein.
Members of the VSU also claim that Wallace attempted to have the organizers of the protest suspended for taking part in the sit-in, a charge that the school administration has denied.
Goldstein acknowledged that members of the student union did not want to submit their constitution to Wallace and the student body government due to what they say has transpired since the protest.
“Our organization goes against the mission of the Associated Students,” he said.
VSU members say that People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), a Venice-based community action nonprofit, has agreed to sponsor them.
Susan Cox, an LAUSD spokeswoman, said that according to school district policy, outside parties cannot sponsor student clubs.
“Sponsors have to be a member of the faculty approved by the principal,” Cox said.
Goldstein said that the reason that group members asked POWER to sponsor their student union was to protect their teachers from retaliation.
“It’s a liability issue,” he explained. “We would not want to see any of our teachers come under fire for (aligning themselves) with our organization.”
POWER organizer Bill Przyluki confirmed that his organization had been contacted by the students and is “very interested in working with them.”
Wallace said that she has reviewed the student union constitution and that it appeared to be a document that would likely meet the administration’s criteria.
“I didn’t really see anything wrong with it,” she said.
But the principal added that the leaders who created the Venice Student Union would be required to adhere to the same guidelines that all other school organizations do if they want to have official recognition.
“I’m not opposed to them organizing,” Wallace reiterated. “But there are certain protocols that they have to follow, as do all organizations at Venice High.”