Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter From a Los Angeles Teacher Jail

I delivered this speech before the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education and Superintendent Deasy on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, his real one on January 15 and not the pretend one the following Monday. I was only allowed three minutes to speak and thus had to read too quickly and even then did not quite get to finish. So I then sent this as a "letter" (an email) addressed to each school board member personally. By way of introduction, I wrote, "It is fitting that I should deliver this address on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Consider this my Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Birmingham in Los Angeles."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

-Martin Luther King Jr.
April 16, 1963

Though I did not include it, King's words which follow his epiphany above are even more apropos for teachers today. 

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea."

As teachers today, we all need to be Chicago Teachers. We all need to be Seattle's Garfield High School teachers.

Here is my speech, my Letter from a Los Angeles Teacher Jail:

Thank you distinguished members of the Board of Education,

I am here to discuss the teacher prison network devised by the Superintendent. He has created within your LAUSD a prison industrial complex for teachers, teacher gulags, imprisoning 350 teachers with more added daily. LAUSD is now the Soviet Union of public education.

The superintendent has taken his personal frustration and the failings of district administrators relating to Miramonte and placed the blame on innocent teacher scapegoats. You must be aware this is happening. Are almost 350 teachers suddenly behaving “inappropriately” towards students or has the superintendent launched an unprecedented witch hunt using the ruse of “student safety” to destroy the lives of dedicated teaching professionals? 

In Superintendent Deasy’s teacher jails, teachers are abused, isolated, segregated, and humiliated. Teachers are now housed completely without thought or reasonableness. They are denied due process. Teachers are never spoken to until after LAUSD "completes" its so-called "investigations". It never interviews teachers ever. How do you conduct an investigation without interviewing the teacher? Unsupported allegations are treated as fact. 

LAUSD administrators who conduct the investigations have no training in the proper techniques for interviewing children and they are never videotaped to check later for improprieties such as manipulating children or asking leading questions. Parents, rarely informed ahead of time, are never asked for permission.  LAPD’s frequent dismissals of baseless charges are ignored by LAUSD. LAUSD treats LAPD as an inconvenience. 

Ms. Galatzan, you and others talk about streamlining the due process system, but the current administration has eliminated due process conducting charades instead. Everything is predetermined. Principals read prepared scripts they know are false out of fear of reprisals. Teacher input is denied or ignored. Meetings held to discuss "tentative decisions" are conducted around district documents stating the decision which are signed by various district administrators prior to the meeting. There is nothing "tentative" about anything. There are no Skelly Hearings, no real ones anyway. LAUSD doesn't even review the "evidence" with teachers. In LAUSD, facts don't matter. Allegations matter.

What you are witnessing is nothing less than a modern McCarthyism where teachers are being Blacklisted with false allegations. Instead of a Red Menace, Superintendent Deasy has invented a Teacher Menace.

I have been a proud teacher and administrator in LAUSD for 28 years going back to 1982 and garnished a number of distinctions. I was an assistant principal at Crenshaw for two years, brought in at the District’s request to help restore its WASC accreditation. I was a mentor teacher for six years and have written official LAUSD curriculum. My teaching has been recognized nationally twice by Johns Hopkins University as a Johns Hopkins Teaching Fellow. My classroom was the only one selected in California to be featured on the National Science Foundation’s live broadcast featuring students in classrooms across the nation and experts at JPL and NASA. Good Morning America once did a major feature on my classroom. A number of years ago at P**** Middle School, Cherie Hale, one of my sixth graders rose from the 49th percentile to the 99th percentile in math in a single year on the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). More recently at W********* Middle School, Josephine Galdomez (also 6th grade) rose from Far Below Basic all the way to Advanced on the California Standards Test (CST) in a single year with me.

The contrivances being used to destroy this life and career came not from my principal who greatly admires my teaching, though he goose steps along like all site administrators now for fear of losing his job, but his superiors. There is a top down atmosphere of fear created and nurtured by a superintendent who is not focused on education or discipline, but only teacher termination. 

I stand before you as one of LAUSD’s finest teachers: a mentor teacher, a Johns Hopkins teaching fellow, an outstanding former administrator, and now suddenly a dishonored, miscreant according to your administration, to speak truth to power. Mr. Superintendent, you imprisoned one too many teachers. Me. I speak for all teacher prisoners and thousands of teachers. The allegations against me are beyond false. They are ludicrous. Yet you, sir, treat them as true. And I am by no means alone. You have criminalized teaching by making ludicrous allegations and even the most minor offense into a firing offense.

I quote army attorney Joseph Walsch who finally terminated the heinous Senator Joseph McCarthy and his McCarthyism.

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last have you no sense of decency?”

Joseph K

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