Tag Archives: LAUSD

LAUSD Doubts that Seasoned Teacher-Librarians Can Teach

Teacher-librarians fill high-tech role.

“There’s no better use of limited funds than paying attorneys to harass educators who’ve devoted their lives to helping our children,” Bennett Tramer of Santa Monica, California, said in a letter published May 17 in the Los Angeles Times. A tongue-in-cheek response to the May 13 Hector Tobar column, “The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians,” the letter concluded: “I also applaud the valuable presence of armed police officers at the hearings; you never know when a librarian will pull out a book and start reading.”

Tramer was reacting to Tobar’s heart-wrenching description of a week’s worth of hearings, in which attorneys representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked Kafkaesque questions such as “Do you take attendance?” of dozens of teacher-librarians appealing their layoffs in order to prove to an administrative judge that the teacher-librarians were not qualified to become classroom teachers. At least, that’s what observers such as Tobar and Nora Murphy, a teacher-librarian for L.A. Academy Middle School and blogger, have written about the hearings.

What does taking attendance have to do with being a highly trained educator who is duly credentialed and who teaches how to learn? Here’s the connection: A recency rule established this school year by LAUSD officials (and upheld by an administrative judge) states that a teacher-librarian who has not taught in a classroom for five years is no longer, by definition, a qualified teacher, no matter how many years of service and training she or he has. And if a teacher-librarian hasn’t taken attendance in five or more years, she or he must not have been in charge of a classroom. The administrative judge presiding over the hearings upheld the recency rule, clearing the way for the trials. It is unclear when the judge will rule on the individuals’ qualifications.

In a May 18 op-ed in the Times, Murphy said:

“I have listened as other teacher-librarians have endured demeaning questions from school district attorneys, and I wonder how it has come to this. . . . The basic question being asked is whether highly trained and experienced teacher-librarians are fit for the classroom. LAUSD’s lawyers seem determined to prove they are not. One librarian, who would like to go back to an elementary classroom if her library is closed, was asked to recite the physical education standards for second-graders, as if failing to do so would mean she was unfit. Another teacher, who wants to return to teaching English, noted that she spent all day in the library effectively teaching English. But her inquisitor quickly started asking questions about the Dewey Decimal System, suggesting that since it involved more math than English, the teacher was no longer practiced in the art of teaching English.”

Among those laid off is Leslie Sipos, teacher-librarian for the middle- and high school library at the brand-new LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, which was featured in American Libraries’ 2011 facilities showcase. “She hadn’t even gotten all the books out of boxes,” Monroe High School Teacher-Librarian Annette Scherr told AL.

“The elimination of school librarians means the District is losing invaluable teachers whose educational specialty is empowering students with life-long, independent learning skills,” wrote American Library Association President Roberta A. Stevens and Nancy Everhart, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, in an open letter May 18 to the LAUSD board and administration. Urging the district to reconsider its decision, Stevens and Everhart asserted: “The elimination of these positions will have a devastating effect on the educational prospects and success of the District’s students. A good school library is not an option—it is essential to a good education.”

As the grilling of teacher-librarians and other LAUSD educators proceeded, there was a presumption that state aid to education was going to be slashed yet again in FY2012, which would be partly responsible for LAUSD having a nearly $408-million deficit to erase. However, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced May 16 that, because state revenues had mushroomed $6.6 billion more than anticipated this fiscal year, he was recommending the restoration of $3 billion to education spending.

If LAUSD receives the $300 million it would be due, it’s unclear whether it could help alleviate the situation in which teacher-librarians find themselves. What could help is the intense networking and outreach that members of the California School Librarians Association are doing to make the Los Angeles school libraries crisis as visible as possible. Teacher-librarians such as Scherr lobbied in the state Capitol with the California Teachers Association in mid-May for additional education funding, and even buttonholed California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was among those backing the state’s adoption last year of model school-library standards. Authors Neil Gaiman, Bruce Coville, and Jane Yolen have been spreading the word through Facebook; Gaiman has also created a #savethelibrarians hashtag.

From Kafka to kiosk?

Scherr and other LAUSD teacher-librarians remain determined, but according to the April 20 quarterly report on bond-funded projects issued by district Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott, the district has already reorganized the Instructional Media Services, which supported the school-library program, into a new department: the Integrated Library and Textbook Support Services. “The Director position of Instructional Media Services is being eliminated,” Elliott writes, noting, “ILTSS supports the instructional goals of the Superintendent and LAUSD by ensuring new school libraries will be made available to students. . . . It is understood that all libraries need a certified librarian, but budget constraints force us to investigate different options for the schools to implement.”

According to Scherr, Elliott testified before the administrative judge that there was no function a teacher-librarian could perform that couldn’t be performed by anybody else. That philosophy is reflected in the report, which goes into detail about the implementation of Follett Software’s Destiny integrated-library system for library and textbook inventory management. Principals are offered three options: Find external funding for a teacher-librarian to manage the software system; delegate a school staffer to learn and maintain the software; establish an unstaffed “kiosk” self-check system so students and faculty can still access the library’s collection.

via americanlibrariesmagazine




Where Shame Is Policy: Inside LA’s ‘Teacher Jail’


Iris Stevenson hurt no child, seduced no teenager, abused no student at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. This is what her supporters say in rallying outrage that this exemplary teacher has languished for months in the gulag of administrative detention known as “teacher jail”: she doesn’t belong there.

And she doesn’t.

Days before being removed from her music classes in December and ordered to spend her workdays isolated on a floor of the LA Unified School District (LAUSD)HQ with other suspect teachers, Stevenson, a legend in South LA and beyond, was at the White House directing the renowned Crenshaw Elite Choir as it sang for President Obama.

She has not been officially informed of the charges against her. Unofficially, Stevenson is said to have swept off the choir to perform first in Paris and then in Washington without permission—an absurd claim, since parents had to consent, and Stevenson has conducted such foundation-supported field trips untroubled for decades. District authorities say only that Stevenson is under investigation.

If she were a de facto kidnapper, police should have been called long ago. But, no, this is not about criminality or even misconduct; it is about a larger game of control being played by School Superintendent John Deasy. That game owes quite a lot to sex, because a few years ago a scandal tripped the panic button, which Deasy has kept his finger on ever since, exploiting justified public anger over a classroom pervert to pursue a war on teachers.

The political question, then, is not just whether Stevenson belongs in teacher jail but what this institutionalized containment regimen, this sub-bureaucracy of punishment, exists for in the first place, and how the specter of sex is the cowing excuse to go after anyone.

Some form of disciplinary netherworld has long existed in the LAUSD, but teacher jail, also known as “housed employee” locations, entered its high rococo period in early 2012, not long after Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School now serving twenty-five years in prison, was arrested for lewd conduct.

For years, administrators had swatted away complaints about Berndt. When he came under suspicion in January of 2011, they removed him from the classroom but initiated a secretive internal process to pay him to resign. Following his arrest a year later, instead of making a sober assessment of administrative accountability, Deasy pulled the entire staff out of Miramonte. All but the principal were sent to an empty school; there, custodians, cafeteria workers and office staff would perform their regular jobs while seventy-six teachers were to sit facing the wall for six hours for the rest of the school year. The leadership of the teachers union was paralyzed. (It was recently swept from office by a progressive reform slate.)

The teachers, too, were paralyzed initially but resisted the seating plan and made the best of it together over four months, while the media made hay. The LAUSD’s questioning was minimal. Most were never interviewed by police. All were cleared. Not all got their old jobs back, because in the interim Deasy restructured Miramonte, cutting the teaching staff by almost 50 percent. The new form of district discipline was set.

Now about 450 teachers languish in sites around the city. They are given no formal explanation. Overwhelmingly, they are past 40. Disproportionately, they are black; disproportionately, they are LGBT, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, a leader of the union’s progressive slate and the likely next union president. Some, like Stevenson and Michael Griffin, also from Crenshaw, who spent more than a year in teacher jail before the district acknowledged there were no grounds, have actively opposed efforts to privatize their schools. (The district’s “reconstitution” of Crenshaw is its own story.)

Presumed to be a danger to children, most disappear in silence, their reputations swinging in the wind of conjecture. Some of those “housed,” as the district puts it, are assigned to a room all day, or a cubicle, or an auditorium, or their home. Since their number has mushroomed, some report for short shifts and spend the rest of the workday under a form of house arrest. Some sit elbow to elbow facing a wall, in a bloc within district HQ, overseen by Specialists, who report to Directors. Nondetainees working in their midst are not to make eye contact or speak to them. One, walking past the room and seeing detainees through glass windows, said, “I thought, Oh, creepy; these are the weird people.” Some detainees may not read books or use the Internet or have a phone; others elsewhere may do some or all of those things. Some may be yelled at just for whispering; others may talk with no consequences.

The assault on their identities, the limbo of secret, open-ended investigation, have driven some older teachers out, retiring early and sacrificing lifetime benefits. Justifying the regime, Deasy recently told parents and others, “A teacher could be accused of drug trafficking, child molestation, prostitution, etc.” Fear is a useful tool; under its cover, a profession is suspect, budgets balloon to pay disciplinary costs, and “education reformers” are handed an opportunity.

* * *

Stevenson has been ordered to draw up lesson plans. For what should she plan? She is forbidden contact with her substitute, or with students, parents, staff or faculty on any school-related issue. While her music classes have been left to watch videos, Stevenson can only worry about students with upcoming auditions.

Her extended community has mounted vigorous opposition through rallies, press conferences, a Facebook site and the donning of fuchsia ribbons sayingBring Back Dr. Stevenson. Alumni, parents and the national youth-led organization BAMN have a petition campaign linking Stevenson’s case to a broader attack on Crenshaw and public education.

Vocal community protest recently helped spring Greg Schiller from the same detention. A teacher of AP biology and psychology classes and the coach of the only sport (fencing) at the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, Schiller had the support of the Los Angeles Times editorial page, students and a group of parents aggressively interested in their children’s futures. With AP exams weeks away, the pressure on the LAUSD mounted. Schiller had been removed from his school in February over fears that two of his students had constructed imitation weapons for a science fair, simpler versions of propulsion systems that have been applauded, variously, as model science projects in California state education materials, and as a darn clever method for shooting marshmallows at a White House science fair.

“They picked the wrong guy,” a Cortines parent told me. That’s got it backward, though, because what enabled Schiller’s mistreatment, and Stevenson’s, is a general consent that mistreatment, secrecy, the lack of due process, is OK for the “right” teachers.

There is no more reason teacher jail should exist than doctor jail or fireman jail. For teachers accused of child molestation or other crimes, there is the option familiar in every other area of life: the police and, assuming there are charges and no bail, actual jail. For serious accusations pending investigation, there are leaves of absence. Alleged minor infractions do not require the disruption of classes and lives.

What’s happening in Los Angeles is not about reason as reasonable people understand it. A Miramonte teacher who is back at work but anxious about using her name still feels the sting of her detention. She said of Deasy’s administration: “They want to dehumanize the profession as a whole, because if you can bring this profession down, if you can make people lose trust in this profession, then you can do anything.”

This, writ large, is the legacy of moral panic: dehumanize anyone, and everyone is vulnerable.

Via The Nation


Breaking News: FBI Raids LAUSD Offices for iPad Files


Dr. John Deasy former PGCPS Super involved in the endless saga in Los Angeles after he left Prince George’s County.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — FBI agents seized 20 boxes of documents related to Los Angeles Unified School District’s beleaguered $1 billion iPad project, officials confirmed Tuesday. Agents confiscated documents at the district’s offices Monday regarding procurement practices involving the Common Core Technology project, LAUSD’s plan to equip all schools with 21st century learning devices.

The FBI confirmed an investigation into the district, but would not provide any further information, citing the ongoing probe. “The L.A Unified School District will offer its full cooperation to federal authorities during the course of the investigation,” Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. The FBI action was first reported by The Los Angeles Times. The initiative to provide all 650,000 students in the nation’s second largest school district with iPads has been plagued with problems from the start. Hundreds of students initially given the iPads last school year found ways to bypass security installations, downloading games and freely surfing the Web.

Teachers complained they were not properly trained to instruct students with the new technology. And questions were raised after emails were disclosed showing that then-Superintendent John Deasy had been in communication with vendors Apple and Pearson before the contracts were put to bid. “The idea of providing first-class learning technology to all the kids in the district, not just the kids who could afford it, is certainly a worthy educational goal,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University. “That worthy goal runs up against problems of organizational feasibility, and it did from the beginning.”