Yesterday I Was Removed From Class In Handcuffs...

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Although I was removed from my classroom today -- after being put in handcuffs in front of my students -- I had an excellent day of teaching to go out on. Nobody has ever really tried to teach my students. Rather, they have been moved through grade after grade, where they have been allowed to copy out of books that they don't understand or spend hours doing graffiti  to occupy themselves. So today, I decided to do LAUSD pedagogy and state standards for real. LAUSD always emphasizes that you should use students' prior knowledge, which in the case of my students is very limited. However, we had just finished reading Richard Conan's The Most Dangerous Game, so I decided to do a lesson on point of view.

Given that we had all experienced yesterday's confrontation between myself and AP Martinez, I decided to download the posting from www.perdaily.com and give it to the students with the following prompt: This is my point of view as to what happened yesterday. Do you think AP Martinez sees it the same way? How do you see it? For the students who had been absent or truant yesterday, I modified the prompt to, "This is my point of view, do you accept it or do you think that there might be another way of interpreting these events?" We had some discussion, where some of the students present said they did not agree with me, while others said they did. I said, "Good, go ahead and write how you see it."

Student B with the cellphone from yesterday's story refuses to do the assignment, "I don't have to do anything you ask me to." At about 8:50AM, she walks out of class. She comes back at 9:20AM and says, "We don't have to do anything you say, because it's not on our contracts." This student and others have been mindlessly copying material out of their various workbooks, where they know absolutely nothing about the subject when they are finished. Nonetheless, they have been given credit and passing grades in these courses -- no wonder they have no concept of learning as a precondition for mastery of knowledge. At this point, Student G voices a variation of the attitude of many of the students who never do any work in class, "I'm here because my mother wants me here; I don't want to be here." In retrospect, Student B must have called AP Martinez and Principal Seary when she walked out of class, because they arrive at 9:52AM. Principal Seary immediately picks up all of the POV assignments along with the work of the few students who have already passed it in.

Principal Seary leaves the room for about a half hour with AP Martinez guarding the fort and I revert to teaching the subject and predicate exercise from the previous day to the students who were truant/absent yesterday -- it's also a good review for the students who were there -- since these students are not able to master any idea with only one presentation. At about 10:30AM Principal Seary returns with a one paragraph letter on LAUSD stationery signed by her superior Janice Davis that orders me to immediately report to LAUSD District 6 Office in the City of Commerce at the corner of Eastern and Slauson. As I go to gather my things, I am told that I cannot take the laptop computer that I have used for the last 2 years for both my personal and school work. I agree that it is District property, but request that I be allowed to download my personal documents. I could either do it now in another location at East Los Angeles Occupational Center or return it later in the day, which seems reasonable. Principal Seary says no and tells me that I must leave immediately without the computer.

At this point, I am told that either I leave without the computer or I will be arrested. I tell the officer that I think that this is unreasonable and that I will not leave without the computer. At this point Principal Seary orders him to arrest me. So Officer A Velasco, badge #667735, puts handcuffs on me in front of my students, while Officer P. Cid and my students watch. At this point, after Principal Seary has already asked me if I have any students work in my backpack and I have given it to her, she proceeds to go through my personal effects in my backpack without my permission. There is no LAUSD or student property in my backpack, just my personal and highly sensitive files, which Principal Seary goes through. Do I have 4th Amendment rights or am I to be treated like a student with Principal Seary in loco parentis?

After the cuffs are taken off of me and I start to head to Local District 6  with no directions and an incorrect phone number on the directive Principal Seary handed to me, I begin to wonder: Do I have academic freedom to give my students an article I have written in aid of teaching an English lesson and requiring them to think about something they had experienced in writing a point of view essay for English?

When I arrive at Local District 6 Richard Tardaguila, the Operations Coordinator, tells me that I no longer work at Central High School and that I will report to this office until the District decides what to do with me, which most likely will be a move for my dismissal as a District employee, according to an attorney from Larry Trygstad's Office that represents members of UTLA that find themselves in situations similar to mine. Mr. Tardaguila tells me that I was removed from Central High School because:

1. "Posting concerns on a website [perdaily] that involved issues of student confidentiality";
2. "Alleged disruptive behaviors during school activities."

I guess this is what AP Martinez meant earlier, when he told Student A that, "Isenberg's just making a fool out of himself." If you remember, Principal Seary could have either called the student whose confidentiality was involved to find out that I had a signed release from both him and his mother or waited for the scheduled 3PM meeting to see if I would produce these documents, which she has no standing to ask for.

As for "disruptive behaviors," the general level of disruption in my class during the lessons of the last few days was actually less considering the engagement of at least some of the students until Principal Seary and AP Martinez arrived with the police. As I came home tonight after a 23-year teaching career both here and in France, I reflected on the real possibility that I might have just taught the last class of my career. While it might prove to be of little consolation in the future as this stressful nightmare unfolds, the one consolation that I cherish is that I have never gone along with the dishonest standard practice of LAUSD to socially promote students with inflated grades that are derived from intimidating teachers.

Lenny: lenny@perdaily.com
Tips: tips@perdaily.com

Flickr:jk5854

1 Comment

Lenny, thank you for standing up for the students, despite their lack of understanding. I have taught at LAUSD high schools since 2000. Your characterization of the typical District administrator is absolutely correct.

I don't think, however, that the District has anything on you. This is clearly a freedom of speech issue.

The students are being harmed by LAUSD. Even if we as teachers were able to get their cooperation, we would not be allowed to teach them to read to grade level nor give them the math skills they sorely lack. As Diane McGuinness said, in her book WHY OUR CHILDREN CAN'T READ, we literally drive students to insanity by failing to teach them to read. They are the real victims here.

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