“My experience here is horrible, ” Kelsey Nglam, a cosmetology student, said of her time in the Cerritos Cosmetology program.
The Cosmetology Department has been put in the spotlight as several students have come forward to complain about aspects of the department and the conduct of certain faculty members.
These complaints include a teacher wrongly failing students, grade negligence, letting students falsify their hours, teachers verbally fighting in front of students, unprofessional conduct from teachers in the classroom and faculty ignoring complaints.
Ria Fontanilla, a cosmetology student, said she noticed these acts in the department, but it wasn’t until she failed her class and was dropped from the program that she took matters into her own hands.
Confused by the occurrence, she had her husband calculate her grades manually and he found that her grade was calculated incorrectly on TalonNet and that she should have been passing her class.
Fontanilla showed her corrected grades to her professor, Carol Munroe and the Chair of Cosmetology Madeline Bettencourt.
“They didn’t want to listen,” she said. “They didn’t want to settle it down.”
Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “[Munroe] has wrongly dropped students that are passing according to the program syllabus but she says the student does not know how to add up the points.”
Bettencourt declined to comment due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act rules.
Professor Munroe also declined to interview or comment.
When neither was willing to help, Fontanilla took her problem to the next level and filed a grade grievance.
“My teacher [Munroe] said, ‘I just calculate everything and put it on TalonNet and it tells me the grades.’ And I told her that isn’t right; you have to calculate, because there are times that it doesn’t calculate right.”
Other students were also failed out of the program and Fontanilla believes that if they had calculated their grades manually they might have also found that their grades were incorrect.
Joanna Schilling, vice president of Academic Affairs, was not willing to speak on any issue going through an appeals process.
“A lot of people don’t like to speak up,” Nglam said. “Because they’re probably scared […] when people started getting dropped by the teacher, that’s when everyone started speaking up.”
She added that recently the students have been informed about the grading. “[Munroe] said, ‘If you look on TalonNet that’s not your accurate grade because someone went out of his way to go and see that the grades are not accurate, so don’t depend on it.’”
Another issue students said they noticed was other students misreporting hours.
“The [students] there, they clock in but they don’t clock out,” Fontanilla said, “So they’ll be out of the classroom for three to four hours, and in cosmetology we [work toward] hours.”
Students failing to clock out for breaks would mean that the amount of their approved hours would be incorrect. According to the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, students must complete 1,600 hours in order to take their state board exams, which grants them their license to legally practice cosmetology in California. They are not allowed to take this exam otherwise.
Another cosmetology student, Amaka Uchemefuna, also said she witnessed this. “The [teachers] used to let them [get away with] not clocking out for their breaks, they didn’t care if they did or didn’t, but they’d be on other [students] about it.”
The board also states that it may revoke or suspend approval of a school if the owner or employee of a school shows “incompetence or gross negligence, including repeated failure to comply with generally accepted standards for the practice of cosmetology […] or disregard for the health and safety of patrons.”
Fontanilla complained about this issue to the department staff.
“Within a couple of days they changed that. They started getting the paper that we clock in and out with and the teachers [now] keep it. Before, we used to keep it,” she said.
Uchemefuna also said that another student was earning hours while not enrolled in the program.
“…[She] wasn’t enrolled but she was coming to class every day and getting her hours and teachers knew about that and they didn’t say anything. She would be forging her own signatures too, on the operations and tech we have to do. I remember somebody went and told and nobody did anything about it and the [student] was still here until she graduated.”
Operations are points earned when a student practices real-life cosmetology techniques. Tech is when you do bookwork. The signatures are vital and necessary for graduating.
Students have also said that Munroe, a professor at Cerritos since August 2011, is teaching from a book students do not have.
“Munroe is teaching from a different book. She’s not teaching from the regular book that we have,” Fontanilla said.
Cosmetology student Troy Garcia expressed the difficulty of taking an exam when some questions are based on a book not accessible to students.
According to a cosmetology employee, there are two cosmetology teachers that teach the junior and senior students. Munroe is one of them. Since she started teaching at Cerritos it has been calculated, using records found on the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology website, that there has been a 17 percent drop in students who pass their state board written exams.
One complaint echoed by students concerned the unprofessional actions of teachers in the classroom.
The student who wished to remain anonymous said, “Teachers don’t get along with each other and openly fight with each other in front of students.”
“They do argue in front of the class,” Uchemefuna also said of the issue. “… It was unprofessional. They have attitudes.”
“They’re always fighting,” Fontanilla said. “They’re always kind of getting on each other’s nerves.”
Pat Novinski, a cosmetology professor, said, “You won’t get [an interview] from the faculty. At this time I’m going to decline an interview.”
Overall, the students interviewed felt that when it came to these issues no one within their department was willing to hear them out or help.
“I don’t like to talk to [Bettencourt],” Nglam said, “Because she is like that, she pushes it away. I really don’t think she helps out students with their problems.”
“There’s no big help,” Fontanilla said, “She [Bettencourt] is supposed to be helping us instead of siding with the teachers. She is no help.”
“Some teachers care about students,” Uchemefuna said, “And some don’t.”
“I think they need to change things in the Cosmetology department,” Fontanilla went on. “Like some of the teachers and staff. Bettencourt’s no help, she should be helping us graduate and helping us focus on our career, but [she’s] not doing that.”
Yannick Real, dean of technology, also declined an interview.
Now able to put the ordeal behind her and return to class, Fontanilla is looking forward to finishing the program.
“I deserve to go back to class,” she said. “I
got to prove my rights.”