Wednesday, September 17, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts





15 Reasons Why We’re Thankful This Year

November 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker

As we near the end of 2012, we at WitnessLA believe there is quite a bit to be thankful for within the social justice sphere–breakthroughs, big wins (and smaller wins), opened doors, and steps in the right direction. Here are fifteen items on our list, in no particular order:

1. We’re thankful to Senator Leland Yee for drafting SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and to Gov. Brown for having the good sense to sign the bill that gives certain juvies serving life-without-parole the possibility of a second chance.

2. We’re thankful that Californians passed Prop 36, the three-strikes reform legislation.

3. We’re thankful that California’s education system will not have to find out what would have happened if Prop 30 had not passed.

4. We’re thankful for the rigor with which the members and staff of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence approached their task, which led to a strong set of findings, and a thorough list of recommendations.

5. We’re also thankful for the many LASD people—present and former— who have courageously come forward: to us, to the LA Times, to the commission and to those guys and girls on Wilshire Blvd.

6. We’re thankful to Judge Michael Nash for shining light on Child Dependency Court proceedings by allowing media access, and to the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals for denying petitions against Judge Nash’s decision.

7. We’re thankful for the passage of marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as steps toward rectifying the harm done by a failed drug war.

8. We’re thankful for SCOTUS’ ban of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentencing. (It’s one step in the direction of banning juvie LWOP altogether.)

9. We’re also thankful to SCOTUS for ruling preposterously long sentences for youth unconstitutional.

10. We’re thankful for the wise and important findings of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color created by Assembly speaker John Perez, and chaired by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.

11. We’re thankful that, slowly but surely, the US is making progress toward equal rights for the LGBT community (shout out to Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota).

12. We’re also thankful to Gov. Brown for making CA the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for youth.

13. We’re thankful for all those who are pushing for zero-tolerance reform in LAUSD schools and across the nation.

14. We’re thankful to SCOTUS for striking down most of the harsh AZ immigration law, SB 1070.

15. We’re thankful that, a year after the program commenced on Oct. 1, 2011, people are finally starting to talk sense about California’s prison realignment process—rather than painting it counter-factually as a plot to endanger public safety by releasing prisoners early. (We are particularly grateful to the LA Times Rob Greene for snapping some of the worst fact-offenders out of their stupor.) We’re also thankful for the programs that are starting to spring up in various counties that see realignment as an opportunity, rather than a burden.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LASD, LAUSD, LGBT, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Realignment, Uncategorized, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

Unmasking Out of State Elections Donors, Voter Disenfranchisement…and More – UPDATED

November 5th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A large last minute elections drama continues to unfold after the California Supreme Court ordered an Arizona group attempting to influence the outcome of two of the state’s ballot proposition races to hand over its donor records. The group has funneled $11 million into campaigns to defeat Governor Jerry Brown’s Prop. 30, and to pass Prop. 32, both ballot propositions that could have a large effect on the state’s future. In the hope of stalling any such revelations until after Tuesday’s election, the AZ group has appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Maura Dolan are following this still-developing story. Here’s a clip from their report:

An Arizona group was scrambling late Sunday to keep secret the individuals behind its $11-million donation to a California campaign fund after California’s Supreme Court, in a rare and dramatic weekend action, ordered it to turn over records that could identify the donors.

The order followed days of frenzied legal battles between California regulators, who have tried to get documents related to the anonymous contribution before election day, and attorneys for the Arizona nonprofit who have resisted delivering them.

The showdown continued into the night Sunday, with no records produced nearly seven hours after the justices’ late-afternoon deadline. Lawyers for the nonprofit said they were trying to comply even as they rushed to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to halt to the audit.

The $11 million went to a committee that is fighting tax increases proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in Proposition 30 and promoting an initiative that could limit political spending by unions, Proposition 32. The donation has been among the most controversial moves of this election season, with Brown railing against the “shadowy” contributors at campaign appearances.

The case, which has the potential to reshape a growing sector of political giving, has put California at the forefront of a national debate over concealed political donations. Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which initially sued the Arizona group, called the California high court’s decision historic.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: This morning, there was a whip-lash-producing about face by Americans for Responsible Leadership, the nobody’s-ever-heard-of-them AZ nonprofit that had funneled $11 million into what are arguably CA’s two most important ballot proposition races—32 (they wanted YES) and 30 (pushing for NO votes). Surprising everyone, this morning the nonprofit dropped its move of last night to try to get a stay from SCOTUS in order to avoid having to reveal its secret donors.

Now that the secret has been revealed, we see one of the two reasons the AZ folks likely stopped fighting. (The first reason was probably that their lawyers advised them that they were not going to win the battle, since—as corporation-friendly though SCOTUS might at times seem to be—even the court’s most conservative justices are loath to trample on state laws when they differ from federal laws, which is the case here. [See above clip.])

However, reason number 2 was perhaps more to the point. By revealing their list of donors, Americans for Responsible Leadership, looked like they were cooperating but….revealed exactly NOTHING. Zero. Zip. Nada.

As with a set of nesting Russian dolls, when one opens doll number one and looks inside one finds…..more dolls. (Another analogy might be a series of secret offshore bank accounts that some types of….um….investors use when they want to launder obscure the provenance of large piles of money. But I digress.)

Anyway, the donors to the nonprofits are—ta da!—more nonprofits (as the LA Times story on the topic points out).

KPCC’s Julie Small reports that, to be specific, the AZ money came from Virginia-based Americans for Job Security (after first passing through yet another AZ nonprofit called the Center to Protect Patient Rights). Americans for Job Security, Small learned, is headed up by Stephen DeMaura, “a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.”

Then with a bit more searching Small found this:

An online search reveals that Americans for Job Security shares an address in Alexandria with Crossroads Media, which is a top media buyer for Republican candidates and causes. Its clients include Americans for Job Security and American Crossroads, a political action committee co-founded by Karl Rove.

Just so you know.


Almost six million Americans convicted of felonies—half of whom have served their sentences—will be banned from voting on Tuesday. That number is made even higher by eligible voters that are sometimes turned away by election officials who have misinterpreted the law.

The NY Times editorial thinks we should take another look at this outdated practice. Here’s how it opens:

The United States maintains a shortsighted and punitive set of laws, some of them dating back to Reconstruction, denying the vote to people who have committed felonies. They will bar about 5.85 million people from voting in this year’s election.

In the states with the most draconian policies — including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia — more than 7 percent of the adult population is barred from the polls, sometimes for life.

Nationally, nearly half of those affected have completed their sentences, including parole or probation.

Policies that deny voting rights to people who have paid their debt to society offend fundamental tenets of democracy. But the problem is made even worse by state and local election officials so poorly informed about the law that they misinform or turn away people who have a legal right to vote.


The LAUSD, together with UCLA, USC, the Rand Corp. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, recently received a grant of $2.4 million to further their work with students who have been exposed to trauma.

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has the story. Here’s a clip:

The grant is the latest in an ongoing partnership among the district, UCLA, USC, the Rand Corp. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a group of trauma centers funded within the Department of Health and Human Services.

L.A. Unified and its partners used the first chunk of money from the network in 2003 to do exploratory work about students and trauma.

A study that year found that more than 60% of local sixth-graders had witnessed more than one event that exposed them to trauma, said Pia Escudero, who directs L.A. Unified’s mental health and crisis counseling services.


By the way, look for our take-to-the-poll voting recommendation list Tuesday morning (full list of endorsements here).

Photo by: 401K 2012 / Flickr – licensed through Creative Commons

Posted in California Supreme Court, Education, elections, LAUSD, mental health | No Comments »

Juvie Lock-up Alternatives, Youth Crime Rate Record Low, and SCOTUS Considers Drug-Sniffing Dogs

November 1st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Georgia’s Judge Steven Teske explains how he came to see that there was a better way to do things than locking all troubled kids up—which is when he embraced the Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI).

Here’s a clip from Judge Teske’s article for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange:

I did not get that help until 2003, after four years into the job–and it wasn’t in the form of money. My court joined over 100 courts from around the country to participate in the Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). The JDAI model, along with the networking, taught me to think outside the box.

The foundation of any successful local juvenile justice system is leadership through collaboration, and JDAI helped us to realize this need. Something had to give, and that “something” was us! We had to stop pointing fingers and saying, “Its not my problem,” or coming up with social, legal, political and who knows how many other reasons our creative minds can conjure to excuse why we can’t be and do different for the good of our kids–and ultimately our community.

Judge Teske also recently met with LAUSD higher-ups and other County officials to work toward alternatives to zero-tolerance policies in schools.

It seems that LA County’s probation department hasn’t similarly reached out. Santa Cruz County and to some degree Orange County has embraced JDAI. Why hasn’t LA County?

The Washington Post’s Donna St. George wrote a great article last year on Judge Teske. It’s well worth your time if you haven’t read it.


According to new figures released by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, The 2011 California youth arrest rate was the lowest it’s been since the 1950′s, despite the youth population having jumped by three million kids since then.

Here’s a clip about what the new figures mean from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice:

California youth crime rose during the 1960’s, peaked in the 1970’s, and have generally plunged since. In fact, overall rates of youth crime, including all serious and violent offenses, have dropped by 50% since the 1970’s.

In particular, the decline of 100,000 in juvenile arrests over the last decade is notable because it occurred even as the youth population age 10-17 was rising by 200,000. The 36% drop in violent crime rates from 2000 to 2011 included all demographics: Latinos (down 36%), African Americans (down 10%), Whites (down 45%), Asians (down 62%), females (down 33%), and males (down 37%).

Looking at the most recent trend, reports from law enforcement agencies in all 58 counties show California’s youth arrests fell by 21% from 2010 to 2011. Juvenile arrests fell 17% last year, including drops in violent and property offenses (each down 16%), misdemeanor and status offenses (down 21%), and murder (down 26%).

Around 25% of the youth crime decline from 2010 to 2011 is attributable to a legislative change that reduced simple possession of marijuana from a crime to an infraction, which reduced youthful misdemeanor marijuana arrests by 9,000 last year. The remainder, however, appears to reflect a real decrease.

A new supplemental report from CJCJ goes into more detail on the crime drop, and gives possible explanations for the decrease. It’s an interesting read.


The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on when it’s okay to use drug-sniffing dogs, and what crosses over into Fourth Amendment territory as an unreasonable search and seizure. (For background on the two Florida drug-sniffing cases heard, go here.)

McClatchy News’ Michael Doyle has the story. Here’s a clip:

With a battery of pointed questions, justices voiced skepticism about a Florida Supreme Court ruling that imposed strict criteria for determining when a dog is qualified to help make a drug bust. At the same time, court conservatives joined liberals in suggesting that a police canine sniffing at the front door of a suspected drug house may be a search that triggers constitutional protections.

“It seems to me crucial that this officer went onto the portion of the house as to which there is privacy, and used a means of discerning what was in that house that should not have been available,” Justice Antonin Scalia said at one point.

The two cases heard separately Wednesday morning will help shape law enforcement agencies’ growing canine dependency. Twenty-four states – including Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Idaho – have sided with Florida law enforcement officials, noting in a legal brief that “drug-detecting canines are one of the essential weapons in the states’ arsenal to combat this illegal traffic.”

While tracking questions can lead court observers astray, a majority of the justices who spoke Wednesday sounded protective of the privacy inherent in a home. In a previous case that involved thermal imagers used to locate household marijuana-growing operations, the court said obtaining details of the home’s interior was a search that required a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. Similar reasoning could apply to a dog’s finely tuned nose, some justices hinted Wednesday.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, LAUSD, Probation, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

UTLA Blocks LAUSD’s Hopes for Race to the Top $$…The Advantages of NOT Locking Up Kids…AND Brain Surgery & the Storm (One Sandy Story)

October 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The Los Angeles Unified School District hoped to get $40 million in federal Race to the Top grant money with a 150-page grant application that envisioned a rigorous program designed to help 9th graders who didn’t have enough credits to move up to 10th grade, which has become a problem of depressing proportions at the district.

However the application required a sign-off from the LA’s teachers union.

And the UTLA higher ups declined to put their collective signatures on the dotted line. (The actual rank and file teachers were not consulted about their opinion in the matter.)

The deadline for the application’s submission was originally this week, but has now been extended because of the storm. (No one seems to know the date of the new deadline.)

UTLA Prez Warren Fletcher says his union’s objection to the grant ap is that the federal RTTT grant will leave the district holding the bag fiscally for some of the future costs of the program.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says this objection is nonsense—or words to that effect.

Most observers figure the real reason is something having to do with the union’s aversion to teacher evaluations, although Fletcher says otherwise.

This is not the first time a teachers union has spiked California’s chances for Race bucks.

According to reform advocates, the primary reason that California missed out on Race to the Top. grants for two years running in the past was due to a similar lack of enthusiasm (which some have called pig-headed obstructiveness) on the part of the statewide union, the California Teachers Association.

Tammy Abdollah for KPCC and Howard Blume for the LA Times and Hillel Aron at the LA School Report all have more.

Here’s a clip from Abdollah’s story:

Citing long-term budget concerns, the union for schoolteachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District has refused to sign off on the district’s Race to the Top grant application, effectively taking the nation’s second-largest school district out of the running for $40 million in federal funds.

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, sounding deflated, said Tuesday morning that the district had tried to work with United Teachers Los Angeles and couldn’t understand why no deal was reached.

“They gave a number of different reasons and every single reason they gave we accommodated,” Deasy said.

Initial concerns about ongoing discussions to meet a Dec. 4 court-imposed deadline for a new teacher evaluation system were addressed by the district. The Race to the Top competition requires districts to adopt an evaluation system that incorporates student test scores. Deasy said L.A. Unified provided the union with a legal assurance that plans for Race to the Top would be treated separately from negotiations.

But UTLA President Warren Fletcher said “a big part of the problem” was the cost.

L.A. Unified’s 150-page application proposes a $43.3 million budget for reforms that would require $3.3 million in funds outside of the $40 million government award. Deasy said union officials were informed that the additional money would have been granted through philanthropy.

But Fletcher said it wasn’t just about the money for the grant right now that was the problem.

“When you sign on to a Race to the Top grant, you make commitments that go on long beyond the four-year period of the grant itself,” Fletcher said.



In a multi-part series, the Philadelphia Enquirer tells about a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that shows, among other things, how New Jersey found that, except for the most serious cases, kids who ran afoul of the law were less likely to reoffend if they were given some kind of alternative sanction that did not involve lock-up.

Here’s their report that ran Wednesday:

For years, New Jersey sent juveniles awaiting trial to county detention centers, locking them up even for minor crimes. But a new report on juvenile justice reform shows that there is another, more effective, alternative that saves taxpayer money and protects society.
The number of juveniles jailed across New Jersey has declined by more than half since the state started a program eight years ago to divert them to other options, according to the Kids Count Special Report.

Funded by a $200,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the program has been implemented in 16 counties. Similar programs have been adopted in other states. The results in New Jersey are staggering. Last year, there were 4,093 juveniles admitted to county detention centers, compared with 10,191 before the program began in 2004.

For young defendants not considered a threat to public safety, the program changed the misguided focus of solely locking them up to allowing alternatives, such as electronic monitoring and home visits. They also receive job training, counseling, and other services more in line with the intent of juvenile justice – giving youths a second chance.

Providing compelling evidence that some youths are good candidates for rehabilitation, the report found that only 3 percent of participants committed another crime while in the program.

According to the report released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, youths detained are more likely to commit another crime, more likely to have trouble in school, and more likely to have difficulty finding a job.

In a continuation of a disturbing trend, minority youths still make up the majority of those being locked up – about 89 percent. But that mirrors national statistics that must be addressed.

With fewer juveniles held in lockup facilities, some counties, including Gloucester, were able to close their detention centers. Across the state, $16 million a year has been saved as a result.

New Jersey’s laudable efforts should be replicated elsewhere to help prevent so many of today’s youthful offenders from becoming tomorrow’s adult criminals.

Here’s one of the earlier parts to the story.


It is just one of the many stories that will continue to unfurl from this still ongoing catastrophe, but the snapshot of fear, coping and caring by the New Yorker’s David Remnick is worth reading. Here’s how it opens;

Virginia Rossano is seventeen years old and has been suffering from epileptic seizures since she was six. She and her family live north of Boston. After consulting with Orrin Devinsky, a renowned neurologist and epilepsy specialist at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, the Rossanos decided to pursue a surgical course for their daughter. Virginia and her mother, Cathy, came to N.Y.U. last week, and on Thursday Virginia underwent a craniotomy. Surgeons removed skull tissue and connected electrodes to the brain to monitor her brain functions. The next step was to wean Virginia from her medications and induce a seizure. Doctors could then locate the source of the seizures and remove the offending tissue. “Dr. Devinsky said that surgery could be a home run for us,” Cathy Rossano told me.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Virginia’s first surgery was a success. While she and her mother waited, word came that the ominous storm approaching New York would be powerful beyond prediction. Doctors and nurses started discharging patients from the Langone Medical Center, in the East Thirties, near the East River. Hundreds of patients were sent home or to other facilities. But many of the sickest and most fragile patients—some of them infants—stayed in the hospital. What no one had counted on was that when the power failed all over downtown Manhattan on Monday night, so, too, did the hospital’s backup generator. Now everyone would have to be evacuated, and in terrifying conditions.

“It was incredibly frightening for the patients,” said Alyson Silverberg, a nurse practitioner at N.Y.U. “There were babies that had to be evacuated down nine flights. We had to do their breathing manually for some of them.” One of the patients that was evacuated was Kenneth Langone, the chairman of the hospital, who is suffering from pneumonia. Langone gave N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center two hundred million dollars in 2008….

Read on.

Posted in Education, LAUSD, Life in general, unions, UTLA | No Comments »

Immigration Cases Up for Supreme Court Consideration, “Art Matters” Fund Drive for LA Arts Education…and More

October 9th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Three cases will likely go before the US Supreme Court that affect immigration law during the 2012 term. The first, Moncrieffe v. Holder, is a challenge to a law that often deports even legal immigrant non-citizens for minor legal infractions like a marijuana charge, which under federal law was prosecuted as a misdemeanor. In the second, Chaidez v. U.S., the Court will decide if an earlier SCOTUS ruling—relating to the same 1996 law that subjects permanent legal residents to deportation for criminal convictions both serious and minor—should be made retroactive. The third case expected to be added to the docket this year is the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which blocks family unification immigration benefits for many same-sex couples.

Daniel Kowalski, immigration expert and attorney, posted a rundown of the cases on LexisNexis’ immigration law community:

“The Supreme Court began its 2012 term this week coming off of a controversial year in which the Court played a central role in the ongoing effort to determine the parameters of U.S. immigration policy and the extent of federal authority. In the Court’s fall session, the Justices will again delve into immigration law in two cases that deal with the consequences of criminal convictions for non-citizens.

First up before the Court is Moncrieffe v. Holder in which the Court will decide whether a conviction under a provision of state law that encompasses, but is not limited to, the distribution of a small amount of marijuana without remuneration constitutes an aggravated felony subjecting the non-citizen to removal from the U.S., notwithstanding that the non-citizen was convicted of possessing such a small amount of marijuana that it would qualify as a misdemeanor under federal law rather than as a felony.

Shortly thereafter the Court will shift its attention to Chaidez v. U.S. to decide just how expansively to read its prior decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, in which the Court held that criminal defendants receive ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment when their attorneys fail to advise them that pleading guilty to an offense will subject them to deportation. The scope of the question presented in Chaidez is whether Padilla applies retroactively to persons whose convictions became final before its Padilla ruling.

Finally, while not yet on the docket, many Court watchers anticipate the Court will take up the question of the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which has a strong immigration component as currently written—DOMA prevents many same-sex couples from availing themselves of family unification immigration benefits.” – Adam Francouer, Oct. 3, 2012


In a push to revive LAUSD arts education, the LA Fund for Public Education launched a gargantuan LA public art exhibition and fundraising campaign “Arts Matter” worth $4M in donated art, services, and ad spaces. The fund drive kick-off was celebrated at East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy Monday afternoon. The drive will continue to showcase works from local artists around the city through February 2013.

KPCC’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Arts Matter,” with CBS Outdoor as a primary sponsor, will feature the work of L.A.-based artist Barbara Kruger on about a dozen city buses and on hundreds of billboards, bus shelters, wall postings, mall media and bulletins, LA Fund officials say.

“You can go from DreamWorks to Amgen, from Boeing to Mattel, they all say their No. 1 challenge is finding creative thinkers who can problem solve and who have the capacity and desire to learn new ways of doing things in an increasingly competitive market place,” said LA Fund Chair Megan Chernin.

Kruger’s “School Bus” will appear on city buses in L.A. through October; other bits of approximately 900 million impressions will appear through July 2013 in various “flights” of the campaign, said the LA Fund.

The artist was at the kickoff Monday and Kruger said she was “thrilled” and honored to be involved. Kruger, who called herself a product of public education, said she aimed to include thoughts that tied the “lack of education” to “catastrophe” in a humorous and critical way. One line on the bus reads “Give Your Brain as Much Attention as You Do Your Hair and You’ll Be a Thousand Times Better Off.”

“It’s huge that [this campaign is] happening and hopefully it’s a wake-up call for people to understand the real importance of the arts in education and the importance of public education — not the defunding of public education,” Kruger said.


“You can’t be a citizen or fully human unless you participate in the arts, and you participate in many ways,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

L.A. Unified, like school districts across the nation, is working on rolling out a new “core curriculum” in 2014; Deasy said the arts should be a full part of that.


“Every one of you deserves what every adult had when we went to school, and that’s a fully-funded arts program,” Deasy told the students at the event launch Monday.


In a prime example of how extreme Zero Tolerance can be, students at a North Carolina middle school were told to quit hugging, or face an in-school suspension. The delinquent hugging was in support of Parker Jackson, a student who’d had a seizure during school.

GOOD’s Liz Dwyer has the story. Here’s a clip:

After seeing the supportive hugs Jackson was getting, the assistant principal told him that hugs aren’t allowed in school. He and his friends cooked up the hugging protest and used social media to get the rest of the school’s eighth graders to participate. The next day Principal La’Ronda Whiteside brought the hammer down.

“She was like, ‘y’all have no rights to that, even though y’all think you do,’ it was very inappropriate, and that if any teachers catch us hugging that we would get (in-school suspension),” Jackson told local television station KSLA 12.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At a special meeting at 9:30 Tuesday morning, the LA County Board of Supervisors will meet with some of the members of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence in order to discuss the Commission’s 194-page final report. Next week, it is Sheriff Baca’s turn to come in and discuss the CCJV report with the Board of Supes.

So stay tuned.

Posted in arts, Education, immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Supreme Court, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

The High Cost of Punishing Kids For “Willful Defiance” – by Matthew Fleischer

September 13th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

California schools suspend more kids than they graduate
—a bleak fact that policy makers have finally started to take seriously.

That is why on Monday of this week, the California Department of Education, the California Attorney General and The California Endowment joined together to sponsor a statewide hearing in order to publicly explore the reasons behind our state’s high rate of school suspensions, and to discuss possible alternatives to the harsh discipline practices that are now being shown to do great damage to vast numbers of our kids.

WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer attended Monday’s hearing and came back with this report.



By Matthew Fleischer

Willful defiance” is a phrase you may not have heard before. But if Monday’s statewide hearing on alternative discipline policies in schools, held at the Mark Taper Auditorium in LA’ downtown library, and attended by students, teachers, local and state policy wonks, plus U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn H. Ali, is any indication, you’ll be hearing those words quite a bit more in the months and years to come.

The term loosely refers to any kind of perceived insubordination or misbehavior by a student, directed towards a teacher or administrator. I say loosely, because there is no standardized formal definition for the term—despite the fact that it’s far and away the leading cause for suspension among the 400,000 students who are sent home for misbehavior annually in the state of California. Students at the hearing told stories of willful defiance been applied towards infractions as minor as swearing in gym class, to a student who refused to wear his collared uniform shirt on a sweltering day, to a transgendered student refusing administrators’ orders to dress in what they considered a gender appropriate fashion. ß

At the hearing, Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of Ed Source, noted the results of his organization’s survey of administrators of 315 schools across California, representing 4.1 million students. 70 percent of these administrators had no formal definition for the term “willful defiance,” despite it being far and away the leading cause for suspension in their schools. In other words, the single biggest factor in the suspension of California students is nearly always meted out in a completely arbitrary fashion. Neither students, teachers, nor administrators have a firm handle on how to consistently and fairly apply punishment.

When you can’t figure out what exactly a student did wrong, you call it ‘defiance,’” former Garfield High School assistant principal Ramiro Rubalcaba told me at the hearing. Rubalacaba is one of several Garfield administrators who, in 2007, began radically altering the discipline culture of the East L.A. school. In 2004, Garfield suspended 600 students. This year, only one was sent home.

We have effectively ended suspensions at Garfield,” says Rubalcaba. “And as a result, we saw our Academic Performance Index (API) scores go up by 75 points.”

Indeed, although it may sound somewhat counterintuitive on first bounce, initial data from an ongoing UCLA study seems to suggest that suspending problem students does little to promote a healthier educational environment in schools. By engaging troublemakers instead of ostracizing them, the performance of the entire school receives a boost. Tia Martinez, co-author of a preliminary UCLA report on suspension in education, surveyed four schools across California that saw the biggest drops in suspension rates from 2008-2012. All four schools saw tremendous boosts in educational performance.

If you eliminate suspensions and do nothing else, you don’t see any improvement,” says Martinez. “But in conjunction with strategies like peer courts, you see a marked improvement.”

Martinez cautions, however, that further study is needed to bolster the first round of her findings.

This is not a definitive study. It’s simply a series of interesting stories that merit further examination. What we can say with certainty, however, is that high suspension rates do not correspond with academic achievement. Even when you control for different demographics.”

Of course the issue of suspensions isn’t merely about test scores. Students who are suspended are far more likely to fall behind in their schoolwork and risk dropping out. And high school dropouts are far more likely to find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.

Data bears this assertion out. African American men are four times more likely to be imprisoned then their white counterparts. Likewise, African-American students are nearly 3.5 more likely than white students to face suspension.

One community activist in attendance said African-American students were being so alienated and removed from school life due to willful defiance suspension regimes, that he went so far as to call for a Plessy versus Furguson “separate but equal” approach to establish a specific set of standards for dealing with black students.

You can’t look at those numbers without outrage,” Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education Ali said at the hearing.

When I caught up with Ali after the hearing, she expressed a deep concern that “willful defiance” infractions may be being meted out in violation of African American and other students of color’s civil rights. She would not, however, go as far as calling for overarching federal intervention in the matter.

You don’t want the federal government subverting local discretion,” she said, noting that the term “willful defiance” could just as easily be altered to “bad behavior” or “insubordination.” Instead, the federal government plans to collect as much data as possible so that state and local school officials can create best practices for handling discipline. Data compiled by the feds currently accounts for race, class, gender and ethnicity. Ali, echoing concerns of LBGT education advocates at the meeting, said she hoped data on sexual orientation would soon be added to the mix–pending an authorizing vote in Congress.

It should be noted that talk of easing suspension rates is not to minimize the safety threat students and school staff potentially face from other students. Anyone caught bringing a weapon to school needs to be disciplined. But if the goal of suspensions is to correct bad behavior, then the data presented on Monday shows that notion is failing California’s students miserably.


Several bills that begin to address this and other school punishment issues are sitting on the governor’s desk as I type. We’ll keep you up to date on their fate.


Still internet compromised up here in West Glacier, thus the single news topic today.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, LAUSD, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

New LA Partnership to Leave Zero Tolerance Behind, African American Activist Says There’s More to Alesia Thomas Story…and More

September 5th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


LAPD, LAUSD, LA County Probation, and city officials are finally coming together to change the LA school system’s broken discipline practices. It is heartening to see concrete changes to the student ticketing policy, but correcting and transforming the larger and longstanding zero tolerance policies for school discipline will be something that takes time and is a process we will continue to closely monitor.

LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

A new approach is also in the works at the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Officials there are launching alternative programs to keep students out of the court system and provide them instead with counseling, tutoring and other community services.

The move away from punitive law enforcement actions and toward support services reflects a growing awareness, grounded in research, that treating minor offenses with police actions did not necessarily make campuses safer or students more accountable. Instead, officials and activists say, it often alienated struggling students from school, pushing some to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.

The shift is being directed by new city and county leaders who community groups say are far more responsive to the groups’ long-running complaints. L.A. Unified Schools Supt. John Deasy, school Police Chief Steven Zipperman and L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Jerry E. Powers — who all took office last year — have embraced the changes for low-level student offenses.

“There’s a very big pendulum shift,” said Robert Sainz, assistant general manager of L.A.’s Community Development Department, which is working with L.A. Unified. “This is the first time the city and school district are working together specifically to bring students back to school.”

WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, a hearing exploring alternative school discipline policies will be held on Sept. 10th in the LA Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium at 3:00p.m. Speakers and presenters that will highlight school discipline data and explore alternatives to the current California policies that aren’t working include: Russlynn H. Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, and delegates from the Youth Justice Coalition, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Public Counsel, and lots more. The event is sponsored by CA Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, CA Attorney General Kamala Harris, and The California Endowment. (It looks like it’s going to be really dynamic. For more information, contact Melanie Keh at


Earl Ofari Hutchinson, LA African American activist and author, says there is more to the Alesia Thomas story than what the LAPD has presented. (For those who are unaware, Alesia Thomas died in custody after a female officer allegedly stomped on her genital area. Thomas had previously attempted to surrender her children at a police station, and was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment.)

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s a clip:

After meeting with Thomas’ mother and grandmother yesterday he said the cops’ version wasn’t the whole story.

His organization, Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, states:

… Family members vehemently dispute the depiction of Alesia as a drug addicted, unfit mother. They revealed many new facts about Alesia’s background, education, work experience, and her relations with her children.

To be fair, we don’t ever recall the police calling Thomas a drug addict. And her own mother did tell CBS Los Angeles / KCAL that she was prone to depression.

However, Hutchinson is one of L.A.’s more credible leaders, and his alliance with the family can’t be good for the LAPD.


Anti-Mexican notes were placed on Long Beach cars on Labor Day saying things like, “Go back to Baja, Wetbacks,” and, “The Mexicans invaded this beach.” The Long Beach police have shrugged off the notes as a free speech issue. We’re not in favor of the cops going around arresting anyone, as it gets into slippery 1st Amendment territory, but it might be prudent to investigate as a potential precursor to escalation.

The OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano has the story. Here’s a clip:

Long Beach is a great town, a town that likes to pride itself on its diversity, unlike us Neanderthals over in Orange County. Nevertheless, it’s a place that boils with racial tension from time to time, as the city has turned from Iowa-on-the-Beach to one of the most diverse towns in the country.

But such incidents usually happen in the working-class areas, definitely not in tony Belmont Shore, where Labor Day found some anonymous pendejo leaving nasty anti-Mexican notes on cars asking “wet backs” to “go back to Baja.”

(Definitely click over to the OC Weekly story, as they have photos of the notes left on cars of beach-goers.)

Posted in Civil Rights, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Free Speech, LAPD, LAUSD, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »


July 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Unified School District announced an interesting partnership
with a national education reform organization called Future is Now Schools—or FIN—to create a group of “teacher-driven” academies within the LA school district.

The plan is for these new “hybrid learning” academies to be located in Silverlake, the Fairfax area and Venice, although no sites have, as yet, been firmly established. They are scheduled to open in time for the 2013-14 school year.

“I’m excited about the potential of this partnership to reinvigorate innovation in our school system,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a district-released statement. “We have the opportunity to make LAUSD a leader in collaborative education reform.”

While LAUSD’s partner— FIN—may not be a name familiar to most Los Angeles education watchers, its founder and board chair, Steve Barr, is very well known in LA as the founder of the influential Green Dot charter schools, which now runs 18 schools in the LA area.


The emergence of Green Dot, which Barr began in 2000, is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools often made national news.

Back then, Barr pushed reform from outside the LAUSD tent, even going so far to engineer what the district viewed as a hostile takeover of Alain Leroy Locke High School by Green Dot in 2008. This was at a time when Watt’s-located Locke—with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures.

Now, four years later, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Barr left Green Dot in 2009, and formed the national organization Green Dot America, which morphed into FIN. Thus far, FIN is in collaboration on schools in both New York City and New Orleans, in New York especially, working closely with the teachers’ union.


So what brought Barr’s focus back to LA, and drew him into a partnership with the district that had, in the past, often treated him as an antagonist?

When I spoke to Barr after the announcement, he told me that one of the factors was his warm relationship with district Superintendent John Deasy, whom he said, he views as one of the most innovation-friendly administrators he’s ever met.

But, most important to his decision, Barr said, was the fact that his daughter, Zofi age 6, was already at school age, with his son Jack, 4, rapidly zooming that direction.

“I’m committed to sending them to public school, and to an LAUSD public school,he said. “Los Angeles should have the best public school system in America. That’s what I want for my kids. I want my kids to go through LAUSD from kindergarten through the 12th grade”

But right now LAUSD is far from the greatest. And, given the state’s economic woes, if it is to just stay even, it needs additional tax revenue.

So what to do?

“Here’s the thing,” Barr said, “If you want to change your school district the fastest, you ‘ve got to be able to knit some coalitions together, and you’ve got to work with the [teachers'] unions.”

When Barr began Green Dot, he discovered that UTLA—LA’s often obstructive teacher’s union—had little interest in speaking with him, much less partnering with with him. In fact, UTLA’s then president A.J. Duffy, lost few opportunities to make clear his disdain of Barr and his charter ideas.

So Barr says he began talking to the union members themselves and, over time, developed relationships with some of UTLA’s more progressive factions, the members of which wanted more innovative approaches to education and helped to vote in UTLA’s current president, Warren Fletcher.

According to Barr and Deasy, the LAUSD-FIN partnership schools will be teacher-centric with teachers and administrators making most of the significant organizational and curriculum decisions, while the district oversees the operation of the physical plant.


Most of Green Dot’s original charters were in traditionally underserved, lower income neighborhoods in South LA, East LA, Watts and Inglewood, where many of the existing schools were underperforming in the extreme.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | No Comments »

LAPD Rise in Shootings Vs. Assaults on Officers, OCSD Removes Security Officers’ Off-Duty Powers, and a New ACT Testing Tool

July 3rd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


According to Alex Bustamante, the inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, there is no link between the rise in LAPD officer-involved shootings and the reported rise in assaults on officers–a claim Chief Charlie Beck made in November. The findings are detailed in a report Bustamante will present to the commission on Tuesday.

LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles police fired their weapons in 63 incidents last year, a total which marked a roughly 50% increase over the shootings in any of the previous four years, according to the report. Beck has explained the increase by pointing to what the LAPD said was a 22% increase in assaults on officers from 2010 to 2011. Police officials counted 193 such incidents in 2011, which were recorded as assaults with a deadly weapon or attempted murders, according to the report.

“Officer involved shootings are also up — largely in response to these kind of attacks,” Beck told the Police Commission in November.

But the inspector general found several reasons why he said this cause-and-effect relationship wasn’t accurate. For one, from 2007 to last year, the number of assaults on officers fluctuated dramatically from one year to the next. The number of officer-involved shootings, however, remained relatively flat until last year, when they jumped. If there had been a connection between the two, the year-to-year totals should have climbed and dropped in sync, according to the report.

The way the department tracks shootings and assaults on officers also muddied matters, Bustamante found. Attacks on officers are tallied based on the number of officers present when assaults occur. By contrast, the department counts an officer-involved shooting as a single event regardless of how many officers open fire. In an incident in April 2011, for example, in which a suspect shot at police from inside a house, the LAPD counted 16 assaults on officers and one officer-involved shooting, despite the fact that 15 officers fired their weapons.

When Bustamante recalculated last year’s assault total to count the number of incidents instead of officers, he counted 106 attacks — a 45% drop from the department’s total. And, instead of a double-digit increase that Beck had contended, Bustamante said the number of assaults was actually about even from 2010 to 2011.


OC Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens, removed security officers’ ability to carry firearms off-duty and make arrests after she received a notice in May that the officers may not meet the minimum requirements of the state commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training–POST. A union representing the officers said they are planning to sue the OCSD over the sudden gun protocol change.

FYI–LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore told WitnessLA that their security officers have specific training to carry weapons on duty, but cannot carry off-duty. Regarding arrest powers, Whitmore said that the officers can only make citizens’ arrests–”We ask them to be ‘armed witnesses’.”

The OC Register’s Tony Saavedra has the story on the OC security officers. Here’s a clip:

The state commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training notified Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in May that the department’s 200 special officers may not meet minimum requirements for training. The officers have limited police powers and provide security at John Wayne Airport, county courthouses and county buildings. They undergo four months of academy training, while full deputies undergo six months.

POST also requires that the department notify the agency whenever a deputy or special officer is hired or terminated, which the department has not done with the special officer classification.

In response to the commission’s concerns, Hutchens on Wednesday took away, for the time being, the special officers’ ability to make arrests. Under previous guidelines, the officers were allowed to make misdemeanor arrests if a deputy wasn’t available. Hutchens also sidelined the officers’ ability to write misdemeanor tickets. And Hutchens took away their ability to carry weapons while off duty, suggesting they apply for a concealed weapon permit from the department.

The changes will remain in effect while Hutchens, the commission and the Orange County Employees Association work out a plan to handle the training concerns, said Assistant Sheriff Timothy Board.

LA Times’ Richard Winton has the story on the planned lawsuit. Here’s a clip:

…Jennifer Muir, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., said Hutchens overstepped her power in deciding the officers will no longer carry weapons off duty and directing them to carry a concealed weapons permit if they want to resume doing so.

“We plan to go to court later this week,” Muir said. “It is a matter of officer safety.”

Muir said there is a very real danger that an off-duty officer could come into contact with a suspect they handled while off duty.


The ACT testing company–the college entrance exam people–has developed a new tool to assess students’ behavioral and academic abilities across K-12. The testing tool focuses on gaps between compulsory education and skills necessary for success in college and the work force.

Salon has the AP story by Josh Lederman. Here’s a clip:

ACT, the organization that developed the ACT college-entrance exam, will start testing the tool in the fall. It will be available to schools starting in 2014.The tool tracks students’ career interests, academic performance and progress toward goals. It’s designed to follow students from kindergarten through high school.

Jon Erickson, president of ACT’s education division, said the goal is to identify and address gaps in skills needed for college and the workforce. The assessment combines traditional testing with teacher-led projects to generate an instant, digital score.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Flickr user Karppinen.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Education, guns, LAPD, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement, Orange County | 2 Comments »

Eight School Discipline Bills Move Forward and Roosevelt High School Hosts Youth Justice Conference

June 7th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Eight nice, new bills meant to address the over 700,000 student suspensions, that take place in California schools every year, have taken the next step in the legislative process.

“Students, parents, teachers, school board members, law enforcement, and superintendents from around the state are calling for real change in the way we treat children who are struggling in our schools and their voices are finally being heard in Sacramento,” said Laura Faer, Education Rights Director at Public Counsel.

According Public Counsel spokesman, Michael Soller, the bills would address some of the worst problems with school discipline. For instance, SB 1235 would bring evidence-based alternatives that improve school climate and attendance rates and raise academic achievement at schools that use harsh discipline police to suspend more than 25% of students every year.

Another bill, AB 2616, would utilize outside resources like PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) and Restorative Justice instead of doling out harsh student suspensions.

A third bill, AB 2537, addresses the issue of state rules that require school officials to immediately suspend for certain infractions and instead,would allow principals and superintendents more discretion.

Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm, cosponsored several of the bills and has been a major advocate against the once fashionable zero tolerance policies that now are seen as  harmful strategies that mostly serve to push students out of the state’s public schools at an alarming rate.

Fix School Discipline, a project of The Public Counsel, has brought together partner groups that include law enforcement, civil rights organizations, parents groups and children’s advocates, all dedicated to working for the bills’ passage.

(The Fix School Discipline site has more info, including the full list of bills, and a section where students and parents are urged to video their own stories of school suspension or expulsion.)

According to the site, “more than 80% of Californians want to fix school discipline rules to reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and give teachers more tools to manage classroom behavior.”


Boyle Heights-located Roosevelt High School is holding a youth-led conference, Saturday, June 9, “to work toward serious changes to unjust education policies,” including out of school suspensions and other issues that the organizers say cause the “school to prison pipeline.”

This is from the press release on the conference:

Organized by a group of Roosevelt High School educators and students, the conference—East Side Stories: Youth Transformation Across Los Angelesseeks to foster youth empowerment and community activism. The conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at Roosevelt High School, 456 South Mathews Street, Los Angeles. Admission is free and includes breakfast and lunch.

Jorge Lopez, a Roosevelt teacher who is one of the organizers of East Side Stories, said that the school’s faculty looked at the large number of student clubs on campus focused on social justice issues, and began meeting with student leaders to discuss how they could build a youth activism movement.

The meetings birthed the East Side Stories, which Lopez said is intended to bring youth leaders from around LA together with workshops, panels, live music, food, poetry readings, etc. to address the issues that affect students the most.

“The idea of hosting a large youth empowerment conference at Roosevelt …we felt would have a tremendous effect on, not only uniting progressive educators and youth on campus, but throughout the East side and Los Angeles,” he said.

“The topics addressed in the conference,” said Lopez, “are the most pressing issues generated by youth in a survey that our collective circulated at our schools.  In turn, our students developed workshops on those issues.”

Lopez said he hopes that the conference’s youth-talking-to youth format will have a real effect. “Young people listen closely when other young and empowered youth speak.”

Posted in Education, LAUSD, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »