To parents, teachers, students, classified employees, management, and the school board of HUSD.


My name is Felipe Sanchez, I am a photographer with the Hesperia Unified School District (soon to be former). I have been a professional photographer for over 25 years, from photographing weddings to school pictures. In 1989 I started working as a school portrait photographer. I am proud of the work that the department has done. Yes we were not perfect, but each and every employee within the Photo Shop did what they could to remedy any problems. On May 19, 2008 the school board voted 3 to 1 to immediately shut down the district's Photo Shop. I am not writing to make attacks on any one person, but rather to tell my experience as a school photographer.


When I first read about HUSD starting a photography studio, I felt that at last a school district that really cares about their students as well as keeping the money within the district. This was history in the making. I knew of no other school district in the nation that had done this. The norm has always been for a school to contract that out to an outside studio. The large schools had no problem but the small schools some would find it a little harder. Photography studios would compete for the large school's contract. A small school may not have much too offer to a studio. I felt that with HUSD having their own photo studio that every school within the district would be serviced regardless of the size of enrollment. Service would come from local people who are part of the community. I wanted to be a part of this because I knew of the benefits that would come for the schools and for the district as well as for the parents.


School portraits are a big business with the real money going to the owner of the studio. A studio may give a percent to the school if enough sales were met, but in most school districts that money would never go to hire more teachers. The schools would have complete control of that money. The small school would just be lucky to get a studio there, receiving money would be unlikely. I saw the HUSD photo shop program as a chance to cut costs to the parent, to be able to service every child within the district, plus add to the school's budget or student run programs, and at the same time bring in money to the district funds in order to hire more teachers.


I am not a school teacher, but I do care about our children's well being. In education as well as in other school things that have become a normal part of a child's school life. I am sure that there are many who feel the same way. Parents know that it takes more than just the teacher and school staff to do the job of educating a child, while providing a safe and pleasant place for them. When it comes to school pictures, many schools, parents and school districts never give it a second thought.


We would all be screaming at the school district if they did not provide a safe and pleasant place for our child to be at. So what would we do if the school district were to tell each school that they would have to find their own bus service? Each school would have to contract the service out to the lowest bid. The school would have to trust that the company doing the service would do background checks on each employee. Now no school district would ever let each school site try to find their bus service. The transporting of children is a very serious service. People come in contact with the children, so background checks must be made of the personnel. Yet we allow people into our schools to photograph our child without a background check. We would have to be trusting that a photography studio will employ a person without a criminal record. Also trust that they employ photographers who know how to treat a child right.


The HUSD Photo Shop department employees had to get a background check as well a as TB test before being allowed to photograph one child. Each photographer had to wear a HUSD Photo Shop shirt with their name on it. While on the job everybody would know my name and who I worked for. If any parent, child or school district employee had a problem with me they could call the school office or the district and give them my name. I have never worked for a photography studio that did that.


The HUSD school board may feel that money is the only thing that matters to the Photo Shop's success. I know that they feel that safety is very important, but in today's world safety goes beyond the grounds of the school. Photography has become a tool for many sick people out there. Some will take a child's picture and place it online. Others may use photography as a lure. While working with others studios, I have had to stop photographers from trying to sweet talk a young teenage girl or set up a date with her. I have met some photographers who should not be involved photographing a child let alone be in the school portrait business. I have had to remind photographers at high school dances that the students are off limits. You would think that it would go without saying, but the main problem I came across was with the young photographer who felt that age does not matter. At the many proms and homecoming dances in which I have worked, many young ladies are dressed in a more mature style. The wrong type of photographer can become a problem. It is a problem not just limited to the high school dance. All photography studios have to deal with this type of problem and are on top of it. They will fire any photographer on the spot if that photographer is found to be doing anything unethical with a student. Sometimes the damage has been done. Take the case in which a photographer from a outside studio, while photographing at a high school, exposed himself to a student during her senior portrait session. That took place here locally in Hesperia a few years ago.


Even if the HUSD Photo Shop would have never made a cent in profits, shouldn't the well being of the child come first before the dollar? Shouldn't the checking of people photographing the children be a major concern? What about the service that each school gets from a professional photography studio. Should that be only to the large schools, leaving the small schools without? Small schools need picture identification of their students as much as the large schools. Has not time proven that school pictures are a part of the school experience and a much needed service for a school? Shouldn't a school board take an active roll in school pictures to insure that each child and school is treated fair and in a respectful manner? The HUSD Photo Shop proved all that and more.


The closing of the Photo Shop is a sad event. Not only for the employees who will be loosing their jobs, but for the students who were hoping to be a part of the intern program. At the school board meeting it was stated that there were no student interns. I am here to tell you yes they were there. One young man was hoping to become an employee in the photo shop after he graduated from Hesperia High. His plans were go to college while paying for his education from his pay as a HUSD photographer. The others were able to get needed work experience which they will need to also help pay for their college education. The intern program could have grown very large as many students from Hesperia and Sultana were looking forward to the up coming school year to join.


I feel that the Photo Shop would have never closed if Sultana and Hesperia High would have joined in the first or second year. The price of a senior portrait would have been at a great savings to the parents. The two high schools seemed to start getting interested this year, with Hesperia High signing on for the up coming school year. The school board was not willing to let the program go for one more year, which may have proven to be a money successful program, now with a high school signed on.


On behalf of the Photo Shop we would like to thank the many people who have supported the program. To our parent volunteers, we thank you for your great help. A special thank you goes to Mojave High School, Summit Leadership, and Crosswalk High School for trusting us with photographing your senior's portraits.


To the parents, if you feel that the services that the Photo Shop offered were worth keeping, call the district office or talk to a board member and voice your opinion. I do not believe that the program will come back, but the voices of the parents should be heard.


To me, I will always remember the HUSD Photo Shop as a proven service to the student, schools, parents, and the community.