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LASD to Appeal $1.1 Million Judgement ….and other stories

April 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


THE LASD WILL APPEAL RECENT HIGH $$ JUDGEMENT IN CASE OF DEPUTY SHOOTING OF PALMDALE TEENAGER WITH TOY GUN

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department now plans to appeal the recent $1.1 million judgement that a jury awarded 19-year-old William Fetters, who was shot by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, Scott Sorrow, four years ago.

The award, which amounted to $1,127,600, included reembursement for medical bills, plus damages for pain and suffering. [Go here for our previous report on the case.]

On on May 10, 2009, Fetters—then 15-years-old—was riding his bike with his brother and friends, playing “cops and robbers,” on a residential street in Palmdale, when Sorrow said he saw the boy waving what he said he believed was a real gun.

The “gun” was, in fact, a toy cap gun . But, according to Whitmore, it was minus the orange tip that representational-looking toy firearms are required to have, thus making it look real when seen quickly.

[WLA obtained the photo above of Fetters' actual toy gun, taken at the scene.]

According to Fetters, he was riding his bike down the street toward a local baseball diamond, pretending to “shoot” back and forth with his brother and friends as they went. As the boys rode, Sorrow approached in his LASD patrol car and barked at Fetters to get off his bike and drop the gun. Scared, Fetters said he dropped the toy gun instantly, and tried to get off the bike, but the deputy shot him anyway.

Sorrow testified to the contrary that Fetters was brandishing what appeared to be a real gun, which he did not drop at all, but instead pointed it at the patrol car causing the deputy to fear for his life and that of his partner. As a consequence, he fired a single shot at Fetters.

The jury believed Fetters’ version of events.

According to Whitmore, after the incident, Fetters was convicted of the misdemeanor charge of pointing a firearm at deputies. “And, don’t forget, both our internal affairs investigation and the OIR [Office of Independent Review] found the deputy’s actions within department policy.”

Whitmore added, “This is not how anyone wants an encounter with a teenager to end.”

Whitmore also noted that the judge in the Fetters case excluded Fetters’ misdemeanor conviction from coming into court, thus the jury was unaware of it.

By the same token, the jury did not hear of another Palmdale incident also involving Deputy Sorrow that occurred in August 26, 2009, three months after the shooting of Fetters. This second incident resulted in Sorrow and two other deputies being sued by a local apartment manager, Noel Bender, for assault and battery, and civil rights violations. [See this Daily News story for additional details on that lawsuit.]

In the Bender case, the jury also decided in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding Bender $581,000 for “false arrest, battery, Civil Rights violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” after acquiting the other two deputies but finding that Sorrow had acted “with malice.”

In Fetters’ case, the jury could not decide whether or not Sorrow had acted “with malice,” thus that part of the matter will be retried later this month, according to Fetters’ attorney, Bradley Gage, who also represented Bender.


LA TIMES URGES “PAY THE DORNER AWARDS”

In an editorial on Sunday, the LA Times editorial board explained why reneging on the $1 million in awards offered for the capture of Christopher Dorner is a very bad idea.

WLA agrees. Here’s a clip:

….some of those who pledged reward money are interpreting the matter as one of contract and are looking for loopholes to withdraw their support. The city of Riverside, for instance, declared that “because the conditions were not met, there will not be a payment of a reward by the city.” That’s penny wise and pound foolish, not to mention a cavalier disregard of public safety. Officials should realize that it will undermine the efficacy of future reward offers if the public senses that the game is rigged. In an effort to save itself a few dollars in this instance, Riverside and others may end up paying dearly in the future when residents, told that a reward is on the table, decide to let police handle it themselves because the money may not be forthcoming.

[BIG SNIP]

Finally, there is this dystopian alternative to consider: If public agencies offer rewards for arrest or conviction and then withhold them in cases in which a suspect dies, they have, in effect, created a financial incentive for police to kill suspects rather than arrest them. That’s a troubling bit of motivation.


HOW MUCH DOES RACIAL BIAS FEED THE “SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE?’

The Christian Science Monitor adds a new and disturbing story to the growing body of evidence that, not only are zero tolerence school discipline policies ineffective and damaging to overall student well-being but, statistically speaking, they are gravely biased when it comes to race.

Here’s a clip from the story by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, which draws from extensive data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.

•An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.

•Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days.

Civil rights groups have been saying for years that school discipline is not meted out fairly, citing examples like these reported last year from around the country by the US Department of Education.

[SNIP]

Data from 72,000 American public schools in the 2009-10 school year, for example, show that while African-Americans make up 18 percent of the students in this large sample, they account for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.

White students, by contrast, represent 29 percent of multiple suspensions and 33 percent of expulsions – but 51 percent of the students.

[BIG SNIP]

Many people might assume the racial breakdown of discipline simply reflects higher rates of misbehavior by some groups of students, perhaps explained by factors such as poverty.

Research has shown that’s not an adequate explanation. “There’s quite a bit of literature that supports the finding that it’s not just about kids behaving badly,” says Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and an expert on school violence and discipline.

His recent study of discipline data in one Midwestern state found that even after controlling for types of student behavior and poverty, African-Americans still had 1.5 times higher rates of suspension or expulsion than whites did….

I’m just scratching the surface with the clips. There’s lots and lots more to the story so

read the rest here.

Posted in How Appealing, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Mayor…City Attorney…City Controller…School Board – Some Help in Deciding

March 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA isn’t offering any endorsements at the moment.
(Okay, maybe one little endorsement. But we’ll get to in a minute.)

Instead, we have linked to some of the more interesting and informative articles, interviews, mini-debates and what not that we thought you might find helpful as you make your decisions:



FIRST AN OVERVIEW: SO WHO REALLY HAS THE POWER IN LA ANYWAY?

Obviously, everyone knows in general what the Mayor does, and the City Council Members, and the City Attorney. But, past the generalities, a great many of us don’t have a really firm grasp on the details of who has control over what in Los Angeles.

With this in mind, LA Magazine has put together a handy GUIDE TO POWER IN LA that explains…well….everything (or nearly so.)

We highly recommend taking a look.


WHO’S GOT WHAT ELECTIONS $$$ AND WHERE DID THE MONEY COME FROM?

KCET has a great Who’s Funding Whom Database, which you can find here.

And here’s a rundown about how to get the most out of the database.


MAYOR

Warren Olney interviews the top 5 mayoral hopefuls—and the interviews are particularly good. Here’s the link, but scroll down, for each interview.

And for individual takes on the candidates:
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze looks at Eric Garcetti and asks if the candidate is tough enough to do what needs to be done as mayor.

Gene Maddeus writes about Wendy Greuel, whom he portrays as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense fix-it woman—with strong union support, namely by the DWP’s powerful workers union, IBEW Local 18—whose backing some voters find worrisome.

UPDATE: Greuel moved to counter that fear on Thursday when she told the Daily News that there would be no DWP raises if LA has a deficit.

Dakota Smith at the Daily News looks at Jan Perry and wonders if she’s too beholden to business groups.

Similarly the LA Times’ Jim Newton wonders if Eric Garcetti is too beholden to the teachers’ union.

In terms of endorsements, the Daily News thinks Wendy Greuel is strong and gutsy enough to take on “stubborn interests”—the unions and others—who “would make L.A. proud as the first woman to lead the nation’s second most populous city.”

The Los Angeles Times goes for Eric Garcetti, whom it says is the candidate with the most potential to “rise to the occasion…” and “the power to inspire.” “He could be just what Los Angeles needs.”


CITY ATTORNEY

While we aren’t endorsing anyone, we do have a strong anti-endorsement. Here it is: ABC—anybody but Carmen. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich has good points, but the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. We went into more detail when Mr. Trutanich ran for District Attorney.

If you’d like a good one-stop-shopping destination that allows you to get a broad strokes idea of the three main candidates—Mike Fuerer, Greg Smith, and Carmen Trutanich—we recommend the on air debate, again, with Warren Olney.

We think it is fascinatingly character revealing for all three of the candidates. For some in a good way. For others, not so much.


CITY CONTROLLER

Once more we refer you to the on-air debate between the candidates with Warren Olney on Which Way LA?

As for sorting out the candidates for voting purposes: LA City Counsel member, Dennis Zine, is the best known and, as such, has a long list of endorsements from unions and elected officials. However persons like former City Controller Laura Chick—and the LA Times, the Daily News, La Opinion, the Daily Breeze and others—are going for Ron Galperin.

Not endorsing, just sayin’…


SCHOOL BOARD

For years, the teachers’ unions have poured gobs of money into the coffers of certain school board candidates whom they could then count on to vote the unions’ direction on any reform issue that the union didn’t like. And true to form, the unions’ presence is being felt in this year’s race too.

But the school board races that are up for a vote in Tuesday’s election have featured a new and muscular funding stream. The money comes from what is collectively known as the school reform movement—a coalition that does not think reform can take place if board members are forever hogtied by unions who put their own interests ahead of those of LA’s kids, with year upon year of demonstrably disastrous results. As a consequence, the the national reform movement has come up with its own big bucks, with some of the money even coming from outside the state. (Not surprisingly, the latter fact has caused controversy.)

Here’s what Education Week has on the matter.

So whom does one vote for in light of all this competing campaign funding?

Well, here’s what the Daily News has to say on the subject.

And here is the LA Times’ list of School Board endorsements.

(You will note both papers’ LAUSD board endorsements are exactly the same.)

The Daily News goes on to explain how it selected its three choices and why it thinks this school board election is of real importance:

What’s at stake is more than just three faces on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The result could either confirm the slow move toward innovation and reform in the nation’s second-largest school district. Or it could reverse the course, destroying the few steps the district has taken in recent years to shake up the old, failing education structure.

For that reason, these races have attracted an astonishing amount of money – $4 million so far – as the unions and reform groups battle it out. How this election goes next week could well decide the fate of education reform in the city, state and nation.

That’s why we are strongly encouraging voters in the three districts - 2, 4, and 6 – to go to the polls and strike a victory for the students by choosing these three people:

Monica Garcia in District 2…Kate Anderson in District 4…Monica Ratcliff in District 6

We agree—most particularly about the choice of Kate Anderson. And, we don’t think the Daily News is overstating its case when it talks about how important this election is to LA’s educational future, and probably to the state’s.

So, yes, that’s an endorsement.

(Oh, and one more thing: Vote NO on Measure A.


NOTE: For more on LA’s schools, and education issues—including Tuesday’s board race—-start reading the lively, smart, and very tuned in LA School report.


BUT WHATEVER YOUR CHOICE….PLEASE VOTE ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5.

Posted in City Attorney, City Budget, City Controller, Education, elections, LA city government, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Unusual Bedfellows for CA Realignment Reform….The Homeboy 5K….The Anti-Suspension School…..& More

December 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


UNLIKELY NEW BFFs UNITE OVER PUSH FOR BETTER REENTRY PROGRAMS & NO NEW JAILS IN CA REALIGNMENT

No labor union in California has been more obstructive when it comes to criminal justice reform than the CCPOA—the prison guards’ union.

And few foundations have been more progressive and reform minded on the topic of criminal justice and prison and parole policy than the Rosenberg foundation.

That’s why it’s very cheering to see the prez of the CCPOA, Mike Jimanez, and the prez of Rosenberg Timothy Silard collaborating on a push for reform as evidenced in this Sacramento Bee Op Ed written jointly by the two men..

May it be a sign of things to come

Here’s a clip:

In polls and with their votes, Californians are sending a strong message that they are ready for the state to move in a new direction when it comes to public safety.

With realignment, local law enforcement has an unrivaled opportunity to lead us in this new direction, but the jury is still out on whether local officials will take up this challenge by adopting strategies that will make neighborhoods safer while maximizing scarce resources.

It’s been more than a year since the state – prompted by a major corrections crisis and a directive from the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce prison overcrowding – instituted realignment. In doing so, the state finally acknowledged that simply putting more people in prison was not the answer to its public safety woes. In fact, the Legislature recognized that California must reduce prison overcrowding and invest its limited resources to support programs and practices proven to keep people safe.

The state also gave local law enforcement and county officials the power to solve a problem that has plagued California for decades – how to keep our communities safe by stopping the revolving door of recidivism. Unfortunately, so far, many counties seem to be choosing to replicate the decisions that left the state’s criminal justice system broken in the first place.

Today, more than half of California’s counties are investing funding they received from the state to build or expand their local jails. Only a few are making real investments in proven crime-fighting strategies, such as re-entry centers, supervised pretrial release, rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration – evidence-based practices that would lessen jail overcrowding and increase safety for California communities…..


THE HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES 5K IS THIS SATURDAY: WHERE YOU CAN….STAY IN SHAPE, HELP SAVE LIVES, GET A COOL T-SHIRT!

Honestly, this is a great event!. However, if you really, really don’t want to run, you can sponsor runners, or just donate to one of So Cal’s most important and life-saving organizations.

It’s on Saturday, December 15, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (runners check in at 6 a.m,), at Los Angeles State Historic Park

You can find the rest of the info here.


BEFORE THE NEW PRINCIPAL ARRIVED, GARFIELD HIGH HAD 100 SUSPENSIONS A YEAR. LAST YEAR THEY HAD ONE

When Principal Jose Heurta came to big, historically gang-troubled Garfield High School in 2010, his first move was to get rid of school suspensions.

Heurta mandated that, instead of tossing a misbehaving student out of school for a day or a week, thereby causing the student to fall even farther behind in his or her classwork, instead the staff would reach out to the kid and spend time with him or her.

Now So Cal Connected has done a terrific story on the exceptionally sane approach that is getting very heartening results. Brian Rooney reports with Karen Foshay producing.

Here’s a clip from the show’s transcript:

Last school year there were just over 700,000 suspensions throughout the California public schools. Kids sent home as punishment about one for every nine registered students. So you might be surprised to hear that at Garfield it was one. Just one suspension last year.

Rooney [to Huerta]: You came here mid-year and there were more than a hundred suspensions, and immediately you said, “No more suspensions?”

Huerta: Right. I talked to my team. And that’s off the table. I know what it’s about. These kids need to be in school. For us to help a kid, we need them in school.

Rooney: The vast majority of suspended students in California are Black and Latino. This school is 99 percent Latino.

[HUGE SNIP]

Rooney: Last year, Garfield’s academic performance score jumped 75 points. The graduation rate last spring was just over 79 percent, three points better than the state average, and eight points better than the entire Los Angeles Unified School District.

Huerta: There’s gotta be trust in there with the teachers, the parents, and the students that everybody’s on the same team, that everybody has the same focus, which is students’ achievement.

Go Principal Huerta! Go Garfield!


RESOLUTION PROPOSES HANDCUFFING LAUSD’S SUP’T DEASY WHEN IT COMES TO GETTING OUTSIDE FUNDING TO HELP THE BUDGET-STRAPPED DISTRICT. (THE HORROR!)

Samantha Ottman at the LASchoolReport has the story:

A controversial item on the LAUSD School Board agenda this week proposes drastically limiting Superintendent John Deasy’s ability to seek funding for the district by applying for public or private grants.

The resolution, initiated by School Board Members Richard Vladovic, Bennett Kayser, and Marguerite LaMotte, aims to give the school board veto power over grant applications made by the school superintendent in amounts over $750,000.

According to a source with knowledge about LAUSD grant applications, Supt. Deasy has been awarded about $120 million dollars for the district through grants so far.

Because of the split on the school board between union-backed board members and supporters of reform-minded Deasy, the effect would be to severely limit the district’s ability to attract foundation and federal money.

Really, LAUSD board? You’re really are going to be that power-grabby and control freaky?

This questionable resolution will come before the board on Tuesday.

(You can read it here on the board’s meeting agenda, at Item 35.)


Posted in LAUSD, prison policy, Reentry, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

OC Sheriff Faces Cancer Diagnosis, Riordan Pension Reform Nixed, and Green Dot Finalist for Major Fed Grant

November 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

OC SHERIFF HUTCHENS SAYS BREAST CANCER WON’T STOP HER

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens held a press conference Monday afternoon to publicly address her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and to say that she doesn’t intend to let her health affect her ability to perform her duties as sheriff. (We at WLA are sending wishes for Sheriff Hutchen’s full recovery.)

The OC Register’s Salvador Hernandez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I will be fully engaged,” Hutchens said during a news conference Monday, accompanied by members of her command staff. “And I plan to run for a second term in 2014.”

Hutchens voice cracked as she described details of her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, but said she is intent in being involved in the day-to-day operations of the department.

“I think the best thing for this is to keep your normal schedule as much as possible and keep engaged,” she said.

A resident of Dana Point, Hutchens, 57, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 9, about six months after a mammogram had shown no signs of a cyst. The discovery came as a surprise, she said, especially because there is no history of cancer in her family.

“I’m very optimistic about it,” she said. “I really believe it was caught early.”

Hutchens notified employees in the department in a memo Nov. 19, in anticipation that treatment could change her appearance, her schedule and raise questions about her health, she said.

But there will be no change to the department’s command.

“I’m going to be in charge,” she said. “If at any time I felt I could not carry on my duties, I would make other arrangements. That’s not going to be the case.”

By the way, there’s a video of Sheriff Hutchen’s news conference beneath the body of the story, so be sure to go over to the OC Register.


RIORDAN’s PENSION PLAN GOES UP IN FLAMES

It was announced Monday that former LA Mayor Richard Riordan would drop his controversial city employee pension reform, an intended ballot measure for the May 2013 election.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum have the story. Here’s a clip:

Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, said he was not surprised by the collapse of the signature drive backed by Riordan. Izen said the pension proposal, which had been planned for the May ballot, never received the proper financial analysis in the weeks before Riordan began his push to get 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot.

“The plan proposed by Riordan to close the defined benefit pension system as a way of saving money was both simplistic and costly … for the taxpayers,” Izen said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents civilian city workers, released a statement from sanitation worker Simboa Wright, who said Riordan and his allies had failed because L.A. voters value the work of city employees.

“City residents weren’t about to let a bunch of billionaires rewrite city policies,” Wright said. “As city workers have been saying for a long time, Riordan’s half-baked plan wasn’t thought out. It died because it was bad for city workers and the city they serve.”


GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS BEAT OUT LAUSD IN QUEST FOR FEDERAL EDUCATION GRANT

The Los Angeles charter group Green Dot Public Schools has advanced as a finalist for a $30 million Dept. of Education grant. LAUSD had also applied for the grant, but was unable to get the support of their teachers union—a requirement for school districts to be in the running.

It is a rather amazing turn of events that Green Dot has made the cut, in that the applications were primarily to have been open to full school districts. But evidently (and happily) Green Dot’s presentation was a strong one.

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s a clip:

Green Dot Public Schools, which operates 18 charter schools, remains in the running for a “Race to the Top” grant, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday. If successful, Green Dot could receive $30 million over a four-year period.

In the application process, districts were supposed to set out a plan to “personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them to meet students’ needs,” according to the Education Department.

But the devil for L.A. Unified was in the details. Participation by the teachers union was required and United Teachers Los Angeles would not sign on, citing concerns that Race to the Top could commit the school system to long-term spending not covered by the grant. Union leaders in L.A. and elsewhere also were concerned such a grant could commit them to the use of student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


KIDS ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: ZERO-TOLERANCE AND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

The Fresno Bee and kNOw Youth Media partnered to produce a series of first-hand accounts of kids affected by “zero-tolerance” school policies, and alternately, kids who have benefited from restorative justice in the education system.

Here’s fourteen-year-old Jane Carretero’s story:

My name is Jane Carretero and I am 14 years old. Towards the beginning of my 8th grade school year at Fort Miller I started doing drugs, and my mom found out about it.

One day, she and I got into a huge fight and she found a bottle of marijuana in my backpack. It was a difficult choice for her to make, but she ended up calling the police. They ended up taking me in for that.

After three days at juvenile hall, it finally hit me. I remember falling on my knees and I started crying for my mom, and I was like, “Why did I have to mess up so badly?”

When I went back to school, I had fallen behind a lot. A lot of people thought that I snitched them out. Some people even thought that I had gotten pregnant, and a lot of girls wanted to fight me, because they thought I was saying things about them.

The teacher started yelling at everyone, and he turned to me. I said, “You’re yelling at us for no reason.” Then the teacher said, “Don’t talk back to me. I know kids like you. You’re messed up in life, and you’re going to mess up when you’re older, too. You’re going to go off to high school thinking you’re all cool and pretty like that, thinking you’re all hard. And you’re going to get beat up one day by a girl better than you,” he told me.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD | 1 Comment »

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

SECRET OUT OF STATE DONORS POURING $$ MILLIONS INTO CA ELECTIONS ARE ORDERED TO ID THEMSELVES (NOTE: UPDATE AT END)

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.


UPCOMING ELECTION DAY AND FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT

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.


LAUSD AND PARTNERS RECEIVE GRANT MONEY TO HELP KIDS DEALING WITH TRAUMA

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.


ENDORSEMENTS 2012

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

REFORMING JUVENILE DETENTION

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.


CA KIDS CRIME RATES AT RECORD LOW

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.


SCOTUS HEARS DRUG DOG CASES

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


WANT FEDERAL $$$ FOR LA SCHOOLS? TOUGH, SAYS THE LA TEACHER’S UNION

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.

Vexing.


NEW JERSEY EXPERIMENT SHOWS ITS BETTER NOT TO LOCK UP JUVENILE DEFENDANTS

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.


A 17-YEAR-OLD-GIRL WAS ABOUT TO HAVE A SECOND BOUT OF COMPLEX SURGERY—AND THEN THE STORM HIT

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

COMING SOON TO SCOTUS: IMMIGRATION

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


COLOSSAL FUND DRIVE FOR LAUSD ARTS EDUCATION

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.

[SNIP]

“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.

[SNIP]

“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.


NO HUGGING IN SCHOOL—OR ELSE!

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.

 

DEFIANCE: THE ALL-PURPOSE WORD THAT DRIVES KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL

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.


EDITOR’S NOTE:

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.


EDITOR’S NOTE – THE SEQUEL

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 »

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