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Principals who let students quickly make up class are reassigned

After failing a class at one L.A. Unified school, three seniors earned the credit at another in days, then returned to graduate. The consequences for the principals trigger backlash at both schools.

September 02, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Pietro Ruggiero, 18, is one of the three students in the controversial graduation at STEM Academy in Hollywood. Teachers are upset over the reassignment of Josie Scibetta, the principal at the academy, following a district review of the controversial graduation.
Pietro Ruggiero, 18, is one of the three students in the controversial graduation… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The principals who allowed three students to make up a failed class in less than a week so they could graduate with classmates in June have been transferred to other schools.

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy ordered the involuntary transfers in August after an investigation of complaints from one or more teachers at STEM Academy in Hollywood, where three seniors had failed a social studies class. The seniors withdrew from STEM and into Alonzo Community Day School, an adjacent alternative campus. At Alonzo, the students earned credit for the course within a few days. They then checked back into STEM, just in time for graduation.

STEM Principal Josie Scibetta was demoted to assistant principal at Hollywood High. Alonzo Principal Victorio Gutierrez was moved to View Park Continuation High School.

Deasy's decision triggered a backlash at both campuses. Alonzo students walked out in support of Gutierrez and have threatened to do so again, with the backing of parents.

At STEM, a core of staff members have rallied around Scibetta, including some who were uncomfortable with what the students were able to do.

Scibetta's supervisors allowed the students to graduate with the class. But a second review found fault with the principals' actions and questioned whether enough work had been completed.

Mark Nemetz — the veteran STEM teacher who flunked the students — has departed, having decided before the incident to leave. Nemetz also has lodged a discrimination complaint against the school administration. He is working as a substitute while he seeks a permanent position.

He, Scibetta and Gutierrez declined to comment, citing the uncertainty of their employment situations, although the administrators had explained their actions in previous interviews.

Scibetta said that the students had a right to withdraw from her school and that she felt she had to accept credit earned at another school. She said that district policy in such cases may need to be clarified or changed.

STEM is a district "pilot" school, which gives it increased autonomy. A governing council can evaluate and choose its principal. Teachers accused the district of violating these privileges.

The teachers praised the first-year principal for increasing enrollment, improving academics and developing opportunities for students outside of school.

Deasy said the district retains the right to discipline employees. He said he would not comment on the matter, citing privacy rules.

Gutierrez was revered by Alonzo students, parents and staff as a last-chance artist, able to inspire and demand results from students who had given up or been written off by others.

In this case, supporters said, Gutierrez gave the three students a second chance by clearly setting out work they would need to accomplish for a minimally passing grade. The seniors completed the work over a period of two to four days; credit at Alonzo is based on student work.

Local district Supt. Dale Vigil, who has since retired, oversaw the first inquiry and reviewed the work packets with another supervisor.

"It looked like the students made a concerted effort to make up the lessons," said Vigil, who also spoke with the teacher who supervised the students.

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