Posts tagged ‘Alex Padilla’

January 17, 2013

Taking Care of Our Children

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

To have safer schools, where the interests and protection of children aren’t afterthoughts, we must demand more from the administrative-union-legislative unholy trinity. 

In light of a second school shooting last week – this one in Taft, California – we have all the usual suspects pointing to their pet causes which they claim will prevent the next tragedy.

The need for stricter gun control, more intensive anti-bullying education, fewer violent video games and more psychologists in the schools will make the rounds just as they did after the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. While these “fixes” sound good, there is no empirical evidence that any of them would have stopped the shooters from doing their dastardly deeds.

Interestingly, that which can be done to stop hateful people from harming our children, school officials are unwilling to do. A good case in point is Eileen Blagden’s story, which I first wrote about in July of 2012 and updated in City Journal last week.

Blagden’s story begins in 2008, when a teacher named Kevin Kirby was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure, but not at school. Nevertheless, Kirby’s arrest prompted his suspension from teaching at Leal Elementary School in the Southern California city of Cerritos. The following year, while awaiting trial, Kirby pleaded guilty to an unrelated trespassing charge. A jury ultimately found him not guilty on the sex-related charges, though he was required to “stay at least 100 yards away” from schools in Long Beach. In September 2009, the ABC Unified School District transferred Kirby to Blagden’s school—Stowers Elementary in Cerritos, where he was assigned as a kindergarten teacher.

Almost immediately, Blagden told me, Kirby began showing signs of irresponsibility and instability. He was absent frequently and would often fall asleep in class. Kirby’s fellow kindergarten teachers reportedly feared him, calling him a “ticking time bomb.” On January 26, 2010, Kirby had an accident on his motorcycle on his way to work. Despite being bloody and distraught, he refused medical assistance from paramedics and showed up at the school. Blagden had kept a wary eye on Kirby. With the accident, her concern grew into alarm, especially when Kirby began talking about suicide and killing Stowers’s other two kindergarten teachers.

Blagden went to her school district and local teachers union with this ominous story and was assured that they would handle it. However after no action whatsoever was taken by the bureaucrats, and worried about her teachers and students, Blagden broke protocol and went to the police. Her reward for doing the right thing was first getting demoted and then losing her job.

This administrative concern for image over children played itself out at Penn State where serial pedophile assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky damaged many young lives during a 14 year period. After this ugly series of events came to light, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report which stated that these school leaders conspired

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Not to be outdone, California legislators – cowed by their teacher union masters – showed they could be just as prone to turning a blind eye to evil as school administrators. After serial pedophile school teacher Mark Berndt got away with sexually abusing children for years, the Los Angeles Unified School District asked the state legislature to change existing law to speed up the process of removing such teachers. As I wrote in July,

State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.

The state assembly, however, is a stronghold for the California Teachers Association, which strongly opposes SB 1530. Before and during the hearings on Padilla’s legislation in the assembly education committee, union leaders and their confederates launched a propaganda effort against the bill, deploying all their standard talking points. The union maintained that SB 1530 was nothing more than a “teacher-bashing bill.” It was too cumbersome, too expensive, and would kill due-process rights. It was demoralizing and even “un-American.” Though these attacks were transparently unfair, legislators got the message. The bill needed six “yeas” from the 11-member committee to pass; it received only five, with two “nays” and four abstentions.

So while school administrators, union officials and state legislators bluster about the need for more anti-bullying programs, gun control, etc., it would behoove them to repudiate their perverse save-our-butts attitude which places image, teachers’ “rights” and protocol over the health and welfare of children.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

July 19, 2012

Damning the Children

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

Protecting image and turf in the face of evil is unconscionable.

As if the Jerry Sandusky fourteen year long child abuse tragedy hasn’t been painful enough, former FBI director Louis Freeh released a report last week that condemned Penn State’s legendary football coach Joe Paterno as well as other school leaders for conducting a massive cover-up. The report said that Paterno, University President Graham Spanier et al agreed

… to conceal child sexual abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade, choosing to preserve the university’s reputation over protecting the victims of a pedophile….

(They) showed “total disregard” for the abuse victims, concealed crucial information and failed at least twice to act on sexual assault accusations against one of their own because they feared the consequences of bad publicity on the university….

Clearly the brunt of the evil lies at the feet of Sandusky, the depraved assistant coach who sodomized young boys. But what can be said of the people who knew about Sandusky’s repulsive acts and did nothing? While Sandusky is guaranteed a special place in the ninth circle of Hell, what about Paterno and the others? Sorry, Coach. Your legacy will not be that you were the winningest college coach in history, but that you and others knew that unspeakable things were being done to children and were more concerned about image than responsibility.

While protecting image will push some otherwise decent folks into moral turpitude, the same can be said for protecting turf. A few weeks ago, at the behest of the California Teachers Association, six members of the California State Assembly education committee refused to sign off on a bill that would have shortened the now endless and expensive process for firing a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence. As an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle stated,

The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent – or more sickening – than in the defeat of SB1530. The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.

Even more disturbing than the union’s predictable dogma was certain legislators’ equally predictable acceptance of it.

These legislators blatantly disregarded their public mandate in order to protect their positions in the legislative body. The teachers union did what it typically does – protect every dues paying member no matter how incompetent, rotten or perverted they are. The union’s laughably transparent defense was that if administrators would follow protocol, bills like SB 1530 would not be necessary. While admittedly school administrators dropped the ball in the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles, it doesn’t negate the fact that the system is rigged to protect teachers who should not be allowed to be near kids.

For many reasons – including callous dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability – Berndt got away with sexually abusing his students for over 20 years. The system is so perverse that the school district couldn’t get rid of Berndt without going through a lengthy appeals process costing over $300,000. So, when his crimes were exposed, Berndt gamed the system by accepting a $40,000 bribe and retired – of course only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension. Writer RiShawn Biddle succinctly and emphatically gets to the heart of the problem,

Yet those education traditionalists, especially AFT officials in L.A., and their counterparts at the statewide affiliate and the NEA’s GoldenState unit, who want to simply blame school leaders for the failure to catch Berndt are also essentially refusing to hold their colleagues responsible. Actually, let me go further: If any education traditionalist tries to use the failures of L.A. Unified as a justification for defending their opposition to making it easier to get evil men like Berndt out of their jobs, then they should look in mirrors and ask forgiveness of their Creator. Because their argument is morally repulsive, intellectually dishonest, and abhorrent violation of one’s obligation to their fellow men and women. An important reason why Berndt was able to perpetuate educational and criminal abuse on the children in his care for so long lies with state laws that effectively make it almost impossible for L.A. Unified and other Golden State districts to dismiss teachers who don’t belong in classrooms.

What happens when an adult does the right thing? Ask seven year veteran principal, Eileen Blagden. In 2010, Kevin Kirby, a teacher who had been suspended from a nearby middle school for lewd and lascivious behavior and trespassing, was sent to Blagden’s school – Stowers Elementary, part of the ABC School District in southern Los Angeles County – where he was assigned as a Kindergarten teacher! (Because it is virtually impossible to get rid of a teacher in California, no matter how incompetent or perverted, Kirby had to be placed somewhere.)

Kirby, after his leave of absence, reported to Stowers “disheveled, stressed, and with blood visibly on his body,” alleging that he was in a motorcycle accident. He was clearly distraught and began talking about suicide and killing two Kindergarten teachers at the school. When Blagden told Carol Hansen, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, of the threats, she was stunned when Hansen told her not to mention it to anyone. But after sending Kirby to the hospital, Blagden did not remain silent. In order to protect the involved teachers and their students, she informed the teachers about Kirby’s threats. As Blagden said,

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School and Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandals coupled with the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Seal Beach tragedies, none of us entrusted with the safety of children can afford to guess at the genuineness of the threat when danger presents itself.

As a result of disobeying a superior, Blagden then was relieved of her duties and eventually “demoted” to the classroom for “poor performance.” Unwilling to accept the district’s action, Blagden filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing.

Then, on July 6th the court ruled that the district fabricated evidence when it said that Blagden was demoted before she went to the police. In what will undoubtedly make it into the deer-in-the-headlights wing of the deposition hall of fame, the former and current ABC Superintendents hem and haw and bob and weave their way through the tough and forthright questioning of Blagden’s attorney Ron Wilson.

As these three cases show, when protecting image and turf become paramount, our institutions become nothing more than a Potemkin villages. Until we reach the point where those in positions of authority make morality their number one priority, evil will prevail. When this evil invades our schools, children are the victims. And any society that abuses children on a regular basis is doomed to fail.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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