-By Larry Sand
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 began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he 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 – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.
“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.
Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.
Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.
CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.