Missing the Mark, But Only Just Barely: The LAUSD Decision and SB 579

It’s not even two months and the impact of the unprecedented Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) decision to close over 1,000 schools is still being felt.

LAUSD serves over 640,000 students and parents across the city of Los Angeles.  Its schools remain in close proximity to private schools, childcare centers, hospitals, colleges, private businesses, and governmental agencies—quite literally, every type of establishment you can think of is next door or across the street from one of its schools.  So when School Board President Steve Zimmer chose to close its doors after receiving terrorists threats via e-mail, on the heels of what many have called a terrorist attack that left 14 dead in the neighboring San Bernardino County, with little notice, many families were left in bind.  Many tried to scramble to find alternative means of childcare and others simply made the very tough decision to simply stay home with their children and not show up for work.

For myself, while my own daughter does not attend an LA Unified school, there are six such schools within a 2 mile radius of the school she does attend, one of which is right across the street.  Like many families, when I received the news by way of a harried phone call from my mother, I was en route taking her to school.  The decision-making process of whether or not to send my daughter to school was real for me, as I’m sure it was for many families.  All I could do, at the time, was make several phone calls within the ten minutes it takes me to drive her to school—to the school administration twice, my mother, my stepfather, and my employer—I was left with very little guidance on what my next steps should be.

As Lois Kosch pointed out in her December 18th guest column of the Los Angeles Daily Journal, “… the phrases “terror threat,” “active shooter,” “shelter in place,” and “lockdown” (concepts once virtually unheard of, much less expected by Americans) [have] now [become] part of the daily news cycle….” And it is frightening.

Fortunately, the new year brought several amendments to the Family School Partnership Act by way of Senate Bill 579 that was marshaled through Congress with very little fanfare.  The Family School Partnership Act was originally introduced in 1987 to increase family involvement at schools.  As families changed and both parents were entering and staying in the workforce while raising children, it was understood that those same children’s academics improved with the increased involvement of parents.  The original statute allowed for grant-funded programs whose aim was to increase parental involvement.

The statute has since been amended several times and last required employers with 25 or more employees to allow employees up to 40 hours of protected, unpaid leave (limited to 8 hours per month)to participate in school- or childcare-related activities.  These new changes brought by SB 579 further expand job protections to provide parents with protected, leave (albeit still unpaid) to find, enroll and re-enroll their child(ren)in a school or with a licensed childcare provider (no longer a daycare center), as well as to address “child care provider or school emergency.”  As codified, such an emergency is defined as one of the following: (1) the school or childcare provider has requested the child be picked up, or it has an attendance policy that prohibits the child from attending or requires the child to be picked up, to exclude planned closures; (2) behavioral or disciplinary problems; (3) closure or unexpected unavailabilityof the school or child care provider, to exclude planned closures; or (4) natural disaster.  Such emergencies do not, count towards the 8 hour per month or 40 hour per year cap.

While this expansion potentially has the ability to put a lot of a parents’ minds at ease and the California Legislature should be applauded for their efforts, particularly in light of the recent closure of all LA Unified schools, it also has the potential to produce unintended consequences.  Namely, a disproportionate and discriminatory effect on hiring.  While men are fast increasing their representation as single-headed heads of households with families and the primary caregivers of their children, whether they are the stay-at-home parent or the single parent, the stereotype is still that women are and will be the primary caregiver.

True as it is that there are protections in place for discriminatory hiring practices, there are still large numbers of employment discrimination cases filed each year.  For example, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) reported in its March 2015 Report to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that in 2011, there were over 8,900 complaints filed on the basis of family leave, marital status, sex – harassment, sex orientation, sex – pregnancy, and sex – other allegations.  And in 2014, the DFEH reported nearly 21,000 complaints filed for the same categories, an over 130 percent increase.

Arguably, each complaint did not center around a woman being the primary caregiver for her child(ren) or would-be child(ren), but the numbers are still staggering and reflective that even though the protections are in place, they aren’t necessarily a fail safe.  Further, suppose you do have good employer, what happens when you step out of that protective bubble in search of new opportunities for growth and increased income?  Would the job hunt be better or worse for you if you are a woman and have the nerve to have a child or be married or be pregnant?  So, while I’d love to give the legislature the pat on the back they deserve, I’ll wait and see how this plays out for the single, working mother who has the audacity to believe she can have it all.

This post has been brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists. If you have suggestions for any topics that you think should be covered on Ms. JD, feel free to email your suggestions to contentdirector@ms-jd.org, and the Ms. JD Journalists will get right on it.

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