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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 »

Prop. 8 Heads for SCOTUS, Lawsuit Challenges LAUSD Teacher Protections…and More

June 6th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an appeal on the February ruling that California’s Prop 8 was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. This follows a ruling against DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Both cases are key milestones in the battle for gay rights and are advancing toward a SCOTUS decision next year.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has a particularly interesting take on the story. Here’s how it opens:

Last week a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals found a central provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. This morning, the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to disturb a ruling by a panel of that court that Proposition 8—California’s anti gay marriage initiative—also violated the Constitution. Both cases represent big wins for the gay rights movement. And both appeals now turn to the Supreme Court for ultimate answers. The two cases are on parallel tracks to get to the court next fall, to be briefed and argued next spring, and to be decided by next June. The question now becomes which appeal the court will hear, and why.

It’s important to emphasize that the two appeals raise different issues. The DOMA case out of Massachusetts challenged the federal law denying federal marriage benefits to gay couples. It doesn’t implicate the right to marry per se but how states define marriage, thereby affecting whether gay couples receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The Prop 8 case, on the other hand, was filed by opponents of the statewide referendum banning same-sex marriage. Judge Vaughn Walker struck that law down in 2010. It was then deemed unconstitutional on more limited grounds by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last winter. Both cases have been handcrafted to mirror the analysis in the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that did away with state laws protecting homosexuals.

LA Times’ Maura Dolan also reports on the issue.


A lawsuit against LAUSD and California officials claims teacher protections are a violation of kids’ constitutional rights to an equal education. The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, has the potential to change LAUSD’s hiring and firing policies, to be now based on teacher seniority, not competency.

KPCC’s Adolpho Guzman-Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Our California constitution says every child has a fundamental right to education that will prepare them for society, prepare them to be effective participants in democracy and the economy,” Olson said.

The lawsuit argues that access to such an education depends on a student’s race and wealth. It blames an unspecified number of grossly ineffective teachers who disproportionately teach in predominately poor Latino and African-American neighborhoods. The suit targets laws that it claims protect these teachers.

One gives teachers permanent employment after a year and a half on the job. Three others grant teachers greater protections against dismissal than other public employees. Another state law orders that school districts lay off teachers starting with the least senior ones, not the least effective.


Recently, WitnessLA posted about New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Cindy Chang’s expose on Louisiana’s prison system. NPR Air Talk’s Terry Gross interviewed Cindy on the investigative series and what makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

It’s absolutely worth listening to. Here’s a clip:

Conditions at the [for profit] rural sheriffs’ prisons differ remarkably from those in larger state institutions, says Chang.

“They’re usually dormitories, and there’s typically 80 or 90 women or men sleeping in a large room in bunk beds,” she says. “And the difference is that people are just lounging around that dorm. They will literally sit there day after day, year after year, until their sentence is over. Whereas in a state prison, which is where most states house almost all of their inmates, you’re busy whether you like it or not — you have a job or you take classes or you’re learning a trade that will help you get a job when you get out.”

Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money. Housing the inmates cheaply and providing few services means there’s more money left over for the sheriff’s department, says Chang.

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” she says. “If you can reduce the prison population, then hopefully you’ll have more money to give the ones who are in the system more help. [But] the Sheriff’s Association is one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. And they’ve consistently opposed any change that would reduce the prison population.”

Photo by Beck Diefenbach for REUTERS.

EDITOR’S ELECTIONS NOTE: As you may have seen, at 1:30 a.m., with 25 percent of the vote tallied, the surprise in the DA’s race is that Jackie Lacey is leading with 31 percent of the early returns, Alan Jackson and Carmen Trutanich battling for second, with 24 and 23 percent, respectively.

We’ll know more in a few hours.

UPDATE: In a surprising upset, Lacey, with 32 percent, easily won the first slot in the runoff, with Alan Jackson still appearing to take the second slot, Trutanich, running a close third. The results are still unofficial although 100 percent of the districts have reported.

Posted in Education, LAUSD, LGBT, prison, prison policy, Supreme Court, unions | No Comments »

Louisiana Prison Capital of the World, Brian Banks Exonerated, and more…

May 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Louisiana has more people behind bars per capita than anywhere else on earth, with a rate of one in 86 residents incarcerated. From the for-profit prisons that keep their facilities over-crowded to keep cash flowing, to the minimal rehabilitation opportunities at the local level, to the preposterously lengthy prison sentences–New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight part series sheds light on the poor infrastructure that makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

NOLA’s entire series is worth reading, but here is a clip from Part 4: Unusual Punishment:

Brian Martin is serving 24 years behind bars — without the possibility of parole — for a car burglary. The 22-year-old had two other burglaries on his record when he was arrested near Abita Springs on June 8, 2011, after stripping a BMW of its stereo and steering wheel. If charged as a three-time offender, he could have received life without parole. His attorney, Doyle “Buddy” Spell, persuaded prosecutors to consider only the two most recent car break-ins, taking a life sentence off the table, but doubling the 12-year maximum for a first-timer.

Martin, a drug addict with a mop of unruly blond hair, will be 46 when he is released from prison in 2036. “I would suggest that we just threw away a life and that the punishment did not fit the crime,” Spell said.

Sentences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana. The state’s prisons are filled with Brian Martins — petty criminals who in another state would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all. Unusually tough sentencing laws are one major reason Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“We see the only goal that is being reflected accurately might be retribution,” said Katherine Mattes, a professor at Tulane Law School and interim director of the university’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.

In Texas, no bastion of liberalism, a two-time car burglar would be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a maximum of six months. California’s famous three-strikes law does not kick in unless at least one of the crimes was a rape, murder, carjacking, residential burglary or other major felony. There, Martin would have received no more than a year behind bars.

In Louisiana, about 160 habitual offenders whose most recent crime involved nothing more harmful than marijuana are serving 20 years or more. More than 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime.


Brian Banks was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction with help from the California Innocence Project. His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was secretly recorded admitting the accusation was false during a meeting with Banks. Now Banks suing California for his false imprisonment.

KPCC’s Patt Morrison had Brian on the show to tell his story. Here’s a clip:

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,’” said Banks. After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

Justin Brooks is the defense attorney handling Banks’ case. He said that in the history of the California Innocence Project, they have never taken a case of someone who had already been released from prison.

The Daily News has the story on Banks’ lawsuit against the state, and includes a video of the emotional hearing. Here’s a clip:

Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.

If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.

Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.


Andrea Lopez, 17-year-old LA Youth writer, felt extremely under-prepared for the SAT prep course she attended at UCLA. Lopez was surprised that she could be one of the top students in her grade, and still be so far behind other students from the same school district. Like many other kids in minority communities, she began to worry that her Sylmar public school education was not adequate enough to get her into a good college.

Here’s a clip from the LA Youth story:

I thought I had a great vocabulary, but I had never heard words like “spurious,” “cogent” and “plaudits.” It’s disappointing that the schools I’ve been to didn’t give me as good an education as these kids. Usually I’m proud of getting some of the best grades in my classes, but I was jealous of what these students knew.

I realized that these kids probably grew up with parents who spoke English and used impressive-sounding words. But having Spanish-speaking parents, I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary on my own. I’ve never been ashamed of having parents who weren’t born here or didn’t graduate high school but sometimes I wish they were more educated so they could help me in school.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrea’s story–it has a very inspirational ending.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LAUSD, National issues, prison, prison policy, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing, social justice, Social Justice Shorts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Bill to Lift Media Ban on Interviewing Inmates, LAUSD Police Still Ticket Too Many Kids, and More…

May 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A controversial new California bill, if passed, would rescind the 1996 ban on in-person interviews of inmates by the media. The purported intent of the ban was to keep inmates from promoting themselves and attaining celebrity status, it has actually served to shield areas of the corrections system that need serious reform from public scrutiny.

This LA Times editorial has the details. Here’s a clip:

Under court order, the state is finally addressing the overcrowding problem by sending newly convicted nonviolent offenders to county detention facilities. But there are indicators that inhumane conditions persist; hunger strikes have arisen to protest the state’s use of Security Housing Units, where suspected gang members are isolated in tiny cells under solitary conditions that psychologists consider mentally destabilizing. Some inmates have been warehoused in these units for decades.

How bad is the situation? In truth, we don’t really know, because inmates in these units have no visitation, telephone or interview privileges. A much-needed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would change that.

AB 1270 allows the media to request interviews with California inmates, including those in Security Housing Units. Officials at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could still turn down these requests for reasons such as excessive risk to the reporter or prison guards, but they would have to submit a written explanation for such denials.

KPCC Air Talk’s Larry Mantle interviews Julie Small, KPCC’s Sacramento Reporter, and  Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association and General Counsel and Legislative Advocate on the issue.


The non-profit Center for Public Integrity has compiled data pointing to the fact that not only did LAUSD school police write an excessive number of tickets for African American and Latino students in 2011, but that 40% of those tickets were for kids under the age of 14. There were 438 citations given to middle-school-aged African Americans, 1394 citations given to Latinos, and 28 given to all other ethnicities for things like tardiness, vandalism, and disturbing the peace.

KPCC’s The Madeline Brand Show addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

The district recently reported that during the last three years school police issued more than 33,000 tickets for alleged violations like vandalism, tardiness, and disturbing the peace.

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity is one of several groups compiling data about school policing throughout the country. It reviewed L.A. Unified’s numbers and found that 40 percent of those tickets went to kids 14 and younger — mostly middle schoolers.

The Center also found that school police wrote an overwhelming number of tickets at schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.


Through the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. High School, Claudia Gomez interviews students who have been incarcerated to shed light on juvenile corrections and those youth that have come out on the other side.

The California Story’s Jake de Grazia interviews Claudia Gomez about her work at Free L.A. Here’s a clip from the introduction, but the entire interview is extremely worthwhile:

South Los Angeles has a long history of feeding California’s overflowing prisons. And for a school that accepts previously incarcerated youth, the goal is to prevent young people from flowing back in. This is the story of a young woman who wants to make change through intimate conversations widely broadcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. site:

FreeLA High School, a partnership between the John Muir Charter School, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Workforce Investment Act, is dedicated to helping young people earn a high school diploma and find work with a focus on careers in social justice movement building. We serve 16-24 year olds based on their probation requirements and difficulty enrolling in other schools. Most of our students have been pushed out of several other high schools before coming to FreeLA, including Probation School or Los Angeles County Education programs within juvenile facilities.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, Education, jail, journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, race | 3 Comments »

Lawsuit Says LAUSD is Paying $10 Million Extra for Waste Pick Up

May 8th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

WitnessLA has acquired some interesting documents this week regarding the ongoing dispute around LAUSD’s choice not to select the lowest bidder
when, this past December, it awarded the district’s five year contract for waste management—which is a fancy way of saying trash and recycling pick up.

The contract is worth tens of millions of dollars so—given all the cuts elsewhere in the district—although usually we don’t spend LOTS of time thinking about the waste management business, it is in all of our best interest that LAUSD gets the most bang for its buck, even when it comes to garbage collection.

A recently filed lawsuit contends that the district is not getting the most for its money at all due to an improper bidding process.

Here’s the back story leading up to the dispute:


Every five years, the Los Angeles Unified School District awards some worthy company or other the contract pick up the district’s waste. In order to select the vender, an RFP (Request for Proposal) goes out, specifying the scope and requirements of the job and what kinds of companies may bid. Then bids and proposals come back in, and the district gives the contract to the firm with the lowest bid, as long as other general criteria laid out in the RFP are met.

On December 6, 2011, however, LAUSD handed its business for the district’s newest waste management contract, not to the low bid company, which was a firm called BMAKK Apex, whose bid came it at $30 million. Instead LAUSD gave its business to Consolidated Disposal Service, for $40 million—-or a price tag that was a not inconsiderable $10 million higher for what is reportedly the same scope of service.

(Originally Consolidated’s bid reportedly came in even higher, at $50 million, but we’ll get to all that in a minute.)

To make matters more confusing, BMAKK Apex is a combination of a couple of companies who had the LAUSD waste contract for the previous five years, according to their president, Anthony Uwakwe, with no complaint and plenty of praise. (Although we’ve not confirmed these evaluations.)

Only three companies qualified to be able to put in bids at all, BMAKK Apex, Consolidated, and a third big LA County company, WM or Waste Management.

According to the RFP, in addition to the bids, each of the three firms had to make a technical proposal based on the district’s published criteria explaining how they’d carry out their services, et al. The three proposals—with the company names redacted—- were given to a panel of experts who then rated the proposals on a point system.

BMAKK Apex got the most points of the three, plus it had the lowest price, at $30 million. Whereas WM came in second, with Consolidated reportedly coming in third out of three with a bid price—at that time—of $50 million, a full $20 million higher than BMAKK Apex.

At that point, BMAKK figured they’d won the contract process, but unexpectedly the district said, no, that there would be a round of interviews to clear up a few questions.

The interviews took place, BMAKK figured they’d done fine, but after the interviews were completed the companies were informed that the new metric for handing out the contracts would be as follows: 30 percent for the bid price, 70 percent for the interview, and 0 percent for the points gathered from the previously scored blind proposal process, which the district folks had now decided to toss out entirely.

And, with this new interview-centric process, the contract was awarded to Consolidated, which had the “most comprehensive program,” the other two companies were told, although “comprehensive” was reportedly not defined, nor—according to BMAKK Apex—-were the losing companies provided with any reports or documentation from the interviews that would explain the discrepancy in the process and outcomes, that differed so greatly from the process that the district had used in past years.

As mentioned above, originally, Consolidated bid $50 million, but then the number reportedly got dropped to $40 million after the other companies questioned the humungous dollar discrepancy.

When the contract was awarded, LAUSD sent out a memo saying that, under the new contract, Consolidated Disposal Service, would be doing more aggressive recycling efforts with the schools, thus cutting still further the amount of junk that ended up in the public landfill, all worthy goals to be sure. But BMAKK says that it offered similar outcomes for less money.

In any case, unhappy at what they saw as an inexplicable contract decision, BMAKK Apex filed suit on March 31, asking the court to overrule LAUSD’s circumventing of their own RFP process.

WitnessLA has acquired a copy of the court filing.

Predictably, LAUSD asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The court has declined, saying that BMAKK Apex may proceed.


Today, Tuesday, LAUSD’s Chief Operating Officer will ask the school board to vote to amend the district’s procurement manual—after the fact—to retroactively make this non-low-bid contract awarding okay, now that it’s being challenged in court.

Certainly, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the district’s new oddball bidding process that has resulted in a contract going to the highest bidder, not the lowest one.

However, according to section 20111 of the California Public Contract Code, which would sure appear to govern such transactions, the parameters are pretty clear. To wit:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LAUSD | 4 Comments »

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