Friday, November 16, 2012
Gone are the good old days when the PUSD administrative staff would call the police on us when we showed up with our signs. At some point they must have figured out that citizens have the right to peaceful assembly.
Don’t laugh. These are the very people in charge of teaching your children civics and teaching them the Constitution of the United States.
Ah, yes. The good old days. I still think my favorite visual picture was watching one of the lumbering unicorns scramble to make a cell phone call to report that someone posted a poster stating Inclusion Free Zone on the marquee of Sierra Madre Elementary School. I waved as I drove by. Toodles! Always the good neighbor, I am. That statement was almost as good as the truck parked across the street from the school the day the Gayle Bluemel Auditorium was christened. It had one bold four letter word emblazoned in red paint across it: LIAR.
And so. Back to the meeting. From the gate the questions were laid on the district. Our request some six weeks back for an investigation into Honowitz and claim that he and the PUSD had violated our son’s rights under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) was investigated internally, and like every other PUSD investigation, the outcome was the same. No violation. Simply put, on with the usual business.
Honowitz, isn’t it true your wife worked on the same floor of the City Attorney’s Office as one of the elite Sierra Madre Elementary parents? Were they given more credibility than we were because of this? What does all of this have to do with Community Schools?
PUSD, why do you allow the criminalization of small children? Why do you allow parents to divulge the full names of children on a live stream without intervening? Why are parents allowed to violate FERPA? Isn’t it true that this is done because Ed Honowitz set the precedent when he discussed my child in a public meeting with you?
How is it possible that Ed Honowitz knew the outcome of a Uniform Complaint the Brandenburgs filed eight days before the report was even written? Where are the interviews and the informational file collected by Steve Miller of Human Resources? How is it that provided with all of the documents, Steve Miller is unable to find a single indiscretion on the District’s part?
We, of course, believe we know the answer. School Districts, like any government agency, are allowed internal investigations. Any employee that is found to be in favor of a parent would put the district into a compromised position, open for litigation. The reason that the Brandenburgs cannot get an honest answer, and an apology, is simple. The person in house would be terminated. Don’t doubt it for a minute. Like all government agencies that are held accountable only to themselves, justice is served only after the liars and vultures have picked over its carcass.
Anyone who ruled against Ed Honowitz would find themselves kicked to the door. If you don’t believe that is true, let me sell you a car that runs like a dream and only has 175,000 miles on it.
We read into the record the following request for a Board Hearing regarding our FERPA denial:
We are formally requesting to the Secretary of the Board, that the Board of Education hear our appeal of the denial of the FERPA claim.
We submitted this appeal September 26, and have heard nothing, despite the timeline of 7 days to submit.
Of note regarding Mr. Miller’s findings through his “investigation”:
Mr. Diaz and Mr. Honowitz were acting within the scope of their duties:
Mr. Diaz and Mr. Honowitz met with parents to discuss our son and his behavior, which is a manifestation of his autism - and somehow Mr. Miller determined it was not a privacy violation to have such a discussion in public, without our authorization, nor in our presence.
The PUSD investigator also determined that this public meeting to discuss an autistic child did not violate FERPA because it concerned the safety of students at Sierra Madre school.
Did Mr. Miller note that the child in question had not been in school 3 months?
Did Mr. Miller note that all services had been withdrawn by Elizabeth Blanco until we signed a document removing our son from all general ed classes at Sierra Madre School?
So what “safety issue” were they all meeting about?
We have asked to see the FERPA investigation file, as this should be a public record. No response.
We have asked how many times FERPA and UCP complaints involving discrimination internally investigated by PUSD result in findings of non compliance.
We have asked how Mr. Honowitz was able to determine the findings of the internal investigation EIGHT days prior to Mr. Miller’s findings?
It was not answered, and it will not be. To do so would mean accepting some level of accountability, and anything that is presented by the Brandenburgs need to be analyzed by attorneys, stalled until the deadline, and then discarded once the Statute of Limitations is exceeded.
You might ask: Knowing that this will happen, why don’t you take steps to circumvent this prior to its expiration?
The answer is simple. We are busy. We function on a single paycheck. We know that the next set of hoops - The Office of Civil Rights, The Department of Justice - those agencies are also in the back pockets of the elite. The districts know that people like us don’t have the money - only the moxie - to challenge them on these violations. They will gladly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to win - rather than to be told that maybe, just maybe, they are out of compliance.
When school districts are found out of compliance they are rarely fined. Yes, you heard that correctly. They are simply served with a list of remedies which they must follow. That isn’t a guarantee that they’ll actually do it,-after all, that would require someone at the next level of government to actually enforce it.
What they do instead is leave it up to the districts’ honor to actually follow through, and the district's internal review team (people like Steve Miller) to make sure it’s done. There is no monetary penalty.
Read that again. No ... monetary... penalty. It is merely a suggestion of remedy. All of that talk about the Brandenburgs being litigious? That was planted to keep us - the parents - the center of focus, and not what these elitist bully parents, Superintendent Edwin Diaz, Special Ed Coordinator Elizabeth Blanco, Principal Gayle Bluemel, and Board Vice President Ed Honowitz did - a diversion to allow the liars and thieves to cut bait and run.
No monetary penalty. Yet PUSD spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to battle people like the Brandenburgs because this isn’t about righting a wrong. This is about power, and powertrips, and about elitism, and about political favoritism, and about winning at any cost. It’s not about equity, and it’s not about leveling the field, and it’s not about social justice. Those are just diversions to keep people like us spinning our wheels while the PUSD lawyers grab the cash hand over fist.
Now ask yourself, why would someone like Ed Honowitz knowingly engage with people like us in a situation that is basically a “No-win?” We don’t know, but he does. We can only speculate and ask unanswered questions. Perhaps he saw us as a couple of stupid crackers, as poor white trash (two names we have been called here in Sierra Madre) and thought it was an easy sell? Push their bratty autistic kid out of the school with the highest API and win over the votes of a large group of people? Remember, this happened before redistricting. Maybe it was because he had some common ground with the elite parent group, maybe a similar interest in property laws and cleaning out communities of people who don’t quite fit in?
It is no secret that PUSD has a double standard. That’s correct. It has been pointed out by the Brandenburgs, by parent advocate Monica Watts, by PUSD staffer Leonard McClaren, and by Board President Renatta Cooper. African American Males in PUSD are more likely to be suspended and expelled than any other subgroup in the district. It can be worded differently, sure - the system prefers language like “unusually high” or “imbalanced” or “disproportionate” because they think it sounds impartial.
Additionally, students with disabilities are more likely than their non-disabled peers to be suspended and expelled in the PUSD. None dare call it institutional racism any more than any dare to call it intentionally segregating children with disabilities. But we have, and we still do.
Let’s take this a step further. One in 88 children are autistic according to the CDC, with 1 in 54 being male. We have personally experienced, in this town, institutional segregation targeting that population. We have suggested, and continue to hypothesize that a number of the children being suspended and expelled, as well as those sent to non-public schools at an increased cost to PUSD - are children who have fallen under the radar; children who did not meet some “standard” of conduct, children who may be that 1 in 54 who were not identified because it is easier to allow them to fall out of favor and send them down the Pasadena Schools to Prison Pipeline. My child is not the only six year old this was done to, he was just the only “white” one.
PUSD is trying to combat some of these clearly racial discrepancies with Behavioral RTI (Response to Intervention), but in the presentation made at the last board meeting the disaggregated data regarding subpopulations was frustratingly absent. Teacher attitudes towards teaching behavior was also a bone of contention. It appears that many teachers don’t believe teaching children how to behave is part of their area of expertise. Yet, according to the PUSD and UTP contract, teachers are given the right to determine what type of “Teacher Staff Development” they are to receive, and we sat in that board room and listened to teachers blast this RTI program because, at $200,000 it was so expensive. If you think $200,000 to train a group of teachers in order to correct a significant structural flaw is a lot of money, I am betting you have no idea what is spent every month on incidentals.
Let me tell you, $200,000 for a ten month program to support teachers and to support kids is nothing compared to what the PUSD spends on attorney fees to protect and bail out dumbass teachers and administrators who break laws they don’t even know exist. The irony? The decision for what kind of professional training teachers in PUSD are given lays squarely in the hands of the teachers.
On the surface, that might seem like a great idea. After all, they know what they need, right? We suggest that no, they all do not.
We live in a world where their antiquated contract is creating a schism that opens the district up for significant procedural lawsuits. At the core of this is the teachers’ rights to refuse to attend meetings outside of their hours of employment. This runs contradictory to a family’s right to participate on the educational planning team if they are working during those staff hours. Additionally, in our experience, general education teachers are frequently lacking the knowledge and the understanding of the behavioral needs of not only autistic children, but also of children in general - especially those subpopulations who are from different socio-economic, ethnic, or second language backgrounds than their own.
Is it justifiable to punish a child for failing to complete class or homework if they cannot physically or intellectually complete it? It’s done all the time right here in Sierra Madre, and probably every school in the country. We also believe that removing physical break times (recess) for these “infractions” is inherently flawed and designed to agitate, not to solve learning or behavioral issues. We believe it is the academic equivalent of running over a blind person because they didn’t see the light was red, and then blaming them for being blind in the first place.
Teachers in this district, and yes, in Sierra Madre, need training that addresses the needs of families just like ours - the disenfranchised, the outsiders, the untrusting. It is not our children’s fault that we don’t trust the PUSD, or that we don’t trust our neighbors - but our children are the ones who pay the cost. Is that fair? Is that just?
So what does this have to do with the Board Meeting?
The time has come for some real dialogue to take place. It is time for leadership, and it is time to make some things clear. Proposition 30 was a sham, there is still a multi-million dollar debt. That is not the fault of the messenger, Chief Finance Officer Dr. John Pappalardo, who delivered the grim news during the audit. Nope. Dr. P just gets to drop the axe, the one that says, “We’re still in this pretty deep.” Proposition 30 for all of its hoopla was simply to stop the complete unraveling of the public school system. Districts like PUSD still have a debt of some 5 million bucks, and there are still going to be significant lay-offs and cutbacks.
Who’s fault, then, is it? It is the fault of the people who throw the district’s money at attorneys who, as pointed out by Board Member Phelps, and by people like the Brandenburgs, are ethically questionable at best. Attorneys who have been reprimanded by the courts for ethics violations, attorneys who have been cited for intentionally bleeding families into drawn-out legal battles that result in families’ financial collapse. Yet PUSD still utilizes these very SAME law groups to teach their administrative staff how to AVOID providing services, how to stall, how to confuse parents, how to divide families, and to how to divert. “Wouldn’t it be better,” I have heard Renatta Cooper ask aloud, “to spend the money doing the job and providing the services?”
Renatta Cooper, when you are on fire, I swear I get chills hearing your voice.
The PUSD spends literally tens of thousands of dollars every month to bail out people who can’t do their jobs because they are bound by a teacher contract that refuses to allow them to enforce specific, systemic change through fair, and equitable instruction, including children just like ours. This is no longer a “special ed” situation.
It is time the district tell its staff what it needs - not just the other way around. In no other field does the worker have the sole decision to determine what the company’s best interests are - except in the Pasadena Unified School District. The time has come to clean house. If there are people who do not want to change with the needs of the field, with the needs of the consumers - all of them, including us - need to move over or get out. There are plenty of people who need the work more than you.
Posted by The Moderator at 5:00 AM