In an effort to take his message directly to the families of Miramonte Elementary, LA schools superintendent John Deasy shared the news of the entire faculty's replacement in a parents-only, press-barred meeting on Monday evening.
Officially scheduled for 6 p.m. in the auditorium of South Region High School, families started showing up to the venue hours early. 1,200 people quickly packed the standing-room only auditorium and dozens of families were left stranded outside the meeting, along with journalists who were not allowed inside.
Before the meeting was over, Deasy's staffers ushered reporters into a smaller room, ostensibly to prepare for a press conference. But the move also had the effect of secluding journalists in a more isolated location when the meeting let out, making it that much harder to gauge parental reactions.
When Deasy finally arrived for the press conference, he was faced with about a dozen irritated journalists who peppered him with challenges to his decision to bar media from the big event.
For instance, Deasy described the parents' reaction to the staff replacement as "relief" communicated by frequent applause. But that only fueled the fire for the reporters challenging him.
KTLA's David Begnaud asked, "Why did you decide to keep media out of the meeting with the parents so we are hearing secondhand on how they reacted from you?" Begnaud continued, "On what legal grounds do you bar someone with no recording equipment from coming into the meetings?"
KCAL9's Suraya Fadel also challenged Deasy. "You can tell us they applauded and all that. How do we know?"
Throughout, Deasy stood firm on his decision to keep press out of the meeting. Recalling the media's announcement of teacher Mark Berndt's arrest last week, he explained, "Parents were so angry and so disrespected that they learned the information first through the media and not through the district ... And I wasn't going to disrespect them a second time."
His decision to bar journalists didn't stop KNX's Claudia Peschiutta, who was able to make her way into the auditorium. In a video report for CBS2/KCAL9, Peschiutta confirmed Deasy's report that parents communicated their approval of the staff replacement through applause, but she also noted that some parents were asking that the press be allowed inside to make sure that the meeting was "as open and transparent as possible."
The Associated Press' video report also notes that many parents were glad to hear the news about the staff's replacement from the district first -- although perhaps not at the expense of freedom of the press. Miramonte mother Nancy Linares told the AP, "I want everyone to know they're covering up something, that's why they don't want the media in there."
For parents who could not get inside, the parking lot was a dark and tense place to wait for a secondhand announcement. Families huddled with friends and there was tension between those who decided to speak out about the abuse on television and those who decided to keep quiet. Among the crowd, parental activists were passing out petitions to transfer their children away from Miramonte Elementary School. Near the entrance of the auditorium, a small group of parents protestsed the closed doors with chants and by banging on the gate.
Unaware that the announcement inside was making her worries moot, Miramonte parent Elizabeth Varela told The Huffington Post that she and her husband were struggling over the decision to transfer their 5-year-old son in the middle of the academic year. "I've never thought of Miramonte as a bad school," Varela explained, but "now we're hoping he's accepted [somewhere else]."
Karla Rivas, a 20-year-old college student, waited outside the parents-only meeting because her little brother was in 8th grade at the school. Both she and her brother were former students of Martin Springer, a teacher who was arrested on suspicion of fondling two girls. She expressed dismay at parents who were shouting and chanting with protest signs when they were stranded outside. "They're screaming that they want justice," she said. "What else do they want? [Berndt and Springer] are in jail already."