New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & MissMarch 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.
Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.
The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:
…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.
“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”
He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”
“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.
“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.
The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:
Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.
However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.
Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.
GETTING LA’S TRAUMATIZED STUDENTS THE HELP IN SCHOOL THEY NEED, IS ANYTHING BUT EASY
Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.
Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing”—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.
Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”
In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.
For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.
Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.
Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.
Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.
In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.
“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”
CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – traumaawareschools.org – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.
“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”