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Ongoing lack of transparency at UCLA Lab School leaves parents concerned, frustrated

A math teacher at the UCLA Lab School was placed on administrative leave with pay twice in the past year. The school’s principal was also put on unexplained leave last year, and did not return for the following year. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Megan Son

Feb. 5, 2019 1:33 a.m.

Parents of students at the UCLA Lab School said they were frustrated by the unexplained administrative leave of a teacher at the school, a year after administration also put a former principal on similar leave.

Kevin North, who has taught math at the UCLA Lab School for 18 years, was placed on administrative leave with pay twice in the past year. North was placed on leave in October, reinstated 12 days later, and placed on leave again Dec. 5. He has yet to be reinstated.

The UCLA Lab School enrolls students from pre-K through sixth grade and is operated by the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

This is not the first time UCLA Lab School administration has placed a faculty member on administrative leave. Former principal Norma Silva was placed on unexplained administrative leave in December 2017. Silva was reinstated for the rest of the school year but did not return for the following year, according to an article published by the GSEIS.

Parents said they are frustrated and appalled by the administration’s sudden decision to place North on leave and their lack of transparency, as they have not disclosed to parents any allegations against North.

GSEIS dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco said UCLA is prohibited from revealing the allegations against North due to privacy concerns, according to an email obtained by the Daily Bruin.

Suárez-Orozco and UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh declined to comment on the situation.

The leave was initially supposed to last from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19, but administrators extended it to Feb. 8, North said.

North met with the administration Feb. 4 to discuss his allegations and general classroom conduct. It was the first he learned of what the allegations against him were, he said.

North said the October and December leaves were due to allegations of classroom misconduct.

Parents of students at the Lab School spoke to The Bruin on the condition of anonymity because they were concerned their children would be removed from the school.

Parent A said they are appalled by the administration’s unfair treatment of North, who taught both their children and helped their son get into a high-ranking private middle school.

“He gets everyone on the same page,” Parent A said. “He prepares them not only in terms of math content but also in terms of responsibility, accountability and self-discipline, with a sense of humor and fun.”

When North left in October and again in December, many parents said they had to use outside resources to supplement their children’s math education, Parent A said.

“Again, we were left in the dark,” Parent A said. “I decided that I don’t want my girl to suffer and to fail in whatever school she goes to, so I’ve had to enroll her again in math enrichment classes.”

Parent B said their son has not learned any math since the beginning of North’s second leave.

“I hired a private math tutor for my son, but my concern is for families who cannot afford to hire tutors for their children,” Parent B said.

Multiple parents said they see the administrative leave of faculty as a pattern that started with Silva’s leave.

Parents said they were upset administrators did not consult with parents before placing Silva on leave. The administration never disclosed the reason for Silva’s leave, parents added.

“She was the heart and soul of the school,” Parent C said.

Parents speculated there was an ulterior motive for her leave, Parent C said.

“What we all assumed was that they wanted someone with a Ph.D., which she did not have, and the current principal does,” Parent C added.

Multiple parents said they suspect Silva and North’s administrative leaves may be a way for the administration to expel unwanted faculty.

“My interpretation is (the administration was) looking for a reason to expel or suspend these people,” Parent A said. “They wanted them out of the way and they just found whatever they could get a hands on.”

Parent C said they think the administration wants fifth- and sixth-grade math to be taught using Cognitively-Guided Instruction, a type of nontraditional math curriculum, rather than North’s more traditional methods.

Parent A said they think parents want administrators to treat them with fairness and transparency.

“What they want is to be treated fairly, and not at the whims of whatever (the administration) wants to impose for our children,” Parent A said.

They added they think parents need to be informed of whether criminal activity is involved in cases of administrative leave and that teachers should not be expelled midyear except in extreme cases.

“If he is expelled in midyear, it should be for a very serious reason and not because they want to change the math instruction, which is what I think is happening,” they said.

North said he has never had an opportunity to share his side of the situation.

“The whole philosophy of the Lab School is that you sit down and you mediate with people,” North said. “You need to hear all sides of the story and not wait two months to get my side.”

While North said he is frustrated by how long it has taken for administration to inform him of the allegations, he said his primary concern is for his students’ education.

He said he is worried for students’ learning because he has not been allowed to provide lesson plans or contact other faculty to inform them of where students are in the curriculum.

“If you’re putting the students first, you want to make sure their education is continuing,” North said.

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