Posts tagged ‘Mark Berndt’

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.

March 9, 2012

Adults’ Rights Come Before Children’s Health and Welfare in Public Schools

Parents send their children to school assuming that kids are its number one priority. But as recent events have shown, public schools are Ground Zero for a culture that puts children last and doesn’t hold adults accountable.

Larry Sand President California Teachers Empowerment Network

In Waiting For Superman, Michelle Rhee stated that it took her a while, but she finally realized that public education is really about the adults, not the kids. No truer words have ever been spoken. In too many cases, a small group of inept and corrupt adults – district administrators, school boards and teachers unions – is in charge of what has become an increasingly incompetent public education system. Recently, several scandalous events point to deep-seated problems.

First and foremost, we have the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles. This man sexually abused children for years at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. For many reasons — including careless dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability — Berndt got away with doing unspeakable things to 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 – but only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension.

And what was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s fix? It decided to ban the blindfolding of children and classroom-made butter. Yes, because Berndt would blindfold his kids and do revolting things to them including feeding them semen-topped cookies, LAUSD responds by slapping a small Band-Aid on a malignant tumor.

The Berndt situation really is just the tip of the iceberg, as case after case of abuse has bubbled to the surface in LA. In California, all school districts have a mandate to report any and all cases of abuse to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which then makes the decision whether or not a teacher’s credential should be pulled. But LAUSD, ignoring the law, never bothered to notify the commission about Berndt or any of the many cases of abusive teachers in Los Angeles classrooms.

Then, across the country in New York, we have the unfirable physical education teacher Valerie Yarn. All Ms. Yarn did was sexually harass her bosses, writing her principal sexually laden emails to the point where the principal had to get a court order banning Yarn from contacting her. After violating the court order, Yarn was imprisoned. Upon her release, however, she was allowed to go back to work at a middle school where she regularly had girls illegally strip to the waist so she could “examine” them. For this she got a one-year suspension, though the district continues to pay her health insurance. It’s anybody’s guess whether she will get her teaching job back and resume her hobby of fondling her female students.

Who is at fault here? To be sure, union lawyers make certain that a bad or criminal teacher can’t be fired, but the local school board in this case makes The Three Stooges look like Navy SEALs. In short, the intersection of Inept Avenue and Evil Street can be the scene of many an atrocity.

Back in California, we have the ongoing saga of parents rising up and trying to take control of a miserable school. As I wrote last week,

Tired of low test scores, (at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California) some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance.

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)

The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.”  But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.

According to follow up stories by AP writer Christina Hoag and the Wall Street Journal, it is apparent that the rescissions were falsified and it looks as if the parent takeover will go forward. But no thanks to the California Teachers Association, which was happy to throw the kids under the bus in order to maintain the status quo at a failing school.

Finally, we have the stunning case of 13 year-old Jada Williams in New York. Honoring Black History Month, Jada wrote an essay about Frederick Douglass and his refusal to be passive in the face of cruel and inhuman slave conditions. Jada compared Douglass’ situation to today’s inner cities where she feels that many teachers have given up teaching African-American children. Whether or not one agrees with her premise, it was an eloquent essay from an 8th grader. So what did her teachers do?

According to Mary Theroux at the Independent Institute:

One would think that Jada Williams would be every teacher’s dream. Given a book above her comprehension, she takes the initiative to use a dictionary to work her way through it, grasps the most salient point of the narrative, and produces an essay applying its lessons to today.

Jada has instead been hounded by her teachers and administrators out of the Rochester Public School system. Her teacher gave copies of Jada’s essay to the school’s other teachers and the principal. Jada, once a solid A and B student, started receiving failing grades, and her parents were called with reports about Jada’s “anger.” Teachers refused to show Jada’s parents the tests and assignments she had supposedly done so badly on, and branded her a “problem” student.

Successfully driven from that school, the family quickly found Jada shut out of any other than the district’s “warehouse” school for what used be known as “incorrigibles.”

Jada’s mother is now homeschooling her and trying to figure out what to do about her daughter’s education in the future. Fortunately, Glenn Beck got hold of the story and now the entire country knows just a little more of what passes for public education in Rochester. The speech that Jada read is available here on YouTube. (H/T Carrie Remis, director of the Parent Power Project in Rochester.)

While the above cases of child abuse are particularly egregious, they are unfortunately not isolated incidents. Due to school boards that have forgotten their mission, bought-and-paid-for legislators, bureaucrats who have become much too comfy in their jobs and teachers unions which never gave a damn about students in the first place, the school children of America are being used as pawns by the entire education establishment. Parents must become aware of this pathetic situation and take action.

Homeschool your kids, if at all possible. If not, visit their school regularly and meet every adult who comes into contact with them. Run for school board. If you can’t manage that, go to as many school board meetings as you can and let these elected officials know that you are watching their every move. Insist on seeing evidence of the effectiveness of your child’s teacher. Find other concerned parents, march on your state’s capitol and demand an end to all laws – seniority and tenure, for example – that favor adults’ needs over children’s. And while you are dealing with legislators, urge them to pass laws that will give parents a choice as to where to send their children to school. Involve yourself with organizations that have parents and children as their number one priority. Two of the more prominent national organizations are StudentsFirst and American Federation for Children. In California, Parent Revolution is an organization that works with parents at underperforming schools.

Parents, no one loves and cares for your children like you do. It is imperative that you realize that leaving your kids with absolute strangers for six to eight hours a day can be very risky business. Blind trust in public schools is a recipe for disaster. Proceed with great caution.

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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