First published in the Aug. 4 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The La Cañada Unified School District is in the process of updating some of its board policies at the suggestion of the California School Boards Association regarding excused absences and gifts from the public.
Bills signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom prompted LCUSD to revise its policies, and one of the bills was authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a former longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and mayor who recently moved to Burbank.
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting students’ mental wellbeing since 2020, Portantino’s Senate Bill 14 was signed into law last year allowing pupils to have an excused absence for the benefit of their mental or behavioral health.
LCUSD is also now in compliance with Assembly Bill 516, which was also signed by the governor last year and allows excused absences for religious instruction or participation in religious or cultural exercises away from school property.
Anais Wenn, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services, also informed the board of updating its policy regarding nondiscrimination in LCUSD programs and activities.
“We want to make sure that if we have any students who are immigrants and they’re coming to our school, that everyone will be treated equitably and fairly and it will have nothing to do with their immigration status or their religious beliefs of how we distribute our services,” Wenn said.
The Governing Board approved revisions to both policies but did not move forward with a proposed change to policy No. 3290 that deals with gifts to the district.
An addition to the policy would require the board to approve corporate sponsorship of school-related programs, including sports. In the past, deals have been made between outside entities and sports programs that result in banners being placed near fields, and LCUSD wants to regulate such arrangements to ensure that they are consistent with the district’s mission, values and goals.
“We will have some oversight over those corporate sponsorships that if somebody wants to pursue one or wants to accept one, then there’s a realization that it needs to go through the district and through the board,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said.
Board member Joe Radabaugh said he was uncomfortable with the revision and asked LCUSD staff to possibly add a monetary minimum that would require the board to weigh in on sponsorship deals because it would delay the process for programs that may need the money quickly.
“If we’re putting [an additional] step in place to bring it to a board meeting once a month, I don’t know if we should be in that process of anything below $2,500,” said Radabaugh, who added that such arrangements are secured through the hard work of those involved in the school program. “Why would we be involved in that low of a dollar amount?”
His colleagues agreed, and staff will review the board’s suggestions and bring it back to the board at a future meeting.
The discussion surrounding gifts to the district gave Wenn an opportunity to elucidate the process involving donations of books to school libraries.
Some parents had expressed concern about student access to books from school libraries and classroom materials, and Wenn assured them that all incoming materials are vetted against a national database before being accepted by librarians.
The database determines the reading level and appropriateness for the grade level of each book, and librarians use that information in determining whether a child in a specific grade can check out the material.
Parents and guardians can also access the database to monitor the books available and inform the librarian of any works they do not want their child to have access to.
Those safeguards were extended to instructional and supplemental materials from educators. Parents can review the syllabus provided by teachers prior to the beginning of the school year and notify them of a specific book they do not want their child to read. The school would then determine an alternate assignment for the student.
“We just want to be accommodating to our families who do not wish their child to read a particular book and therefore we want to put something like this in place,” said Wenn, who added that such safeguards have always been in place but felt it was a good time to remind parents that they exist.