Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Welcome to St. Anne's: THE COMMUNITY MEETING OF THE US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS CONCERNING THE COMPLIANCE REVIEW OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER PROGRAMS IN THE LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

by smf for 4LAKids

Founded in 1908, and officially sponsored in 1941 by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, St. Anne's first opened its doors as a maternity hospital for pregnant, unwed, young mothers. At that time St. Anne's was regarded as a hiding place for young women to come in secrecy and to conceal their pregnancies from the community and their families. - from http://www.stannes.org

March 10, 2009 – Tonight's community meeting at St. Anne's Conference center was an interesting event. St. Anne's is an interesting place. A century ago ...and half a century ...and even even recently: a place for young women and their families to hide themselves and their shame away.

Now St. Anne's has reinvented itself for the twenty-first century: a residence hotel and school for that same clientele – who check in and out of the dorm rooms and eat in the pleasant little cafe. There's the crucifix here and there, a statue of St. Francis in the courtyard – but the gates are open – the hiding and the shame are gone; the habits and the wimples are few and far between.

And the big conference room is a money making attraction.

“This room is the place”, an experienced parent said, “where we have meetings to really change the District.”

The "New Village Charter High School" seems to be a continuation of the old Franciscan Sisters' girls school. But charter schools cannot be denominational so it isn't!

Others have questioned the propriety of the School District and/or The US Department of Ed renting – or even meeting – in Catholic space; we try to be original here at 4LAKids so I'll leave that argument to them. There was no praying – and no pledge of allegiance either – so church and state were kept separated ...but dating.

THE EVENING BEGAN HALF AN HOUR LATE (but ended on time) with the usual self-interested activist organizations represented and introduced: Alliance for a Better Community (ABC has an office at St. Anne's), Inner City Struggle, MALDEF, Families in Schools, UTLA – leading to the main event: A speech by Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. And her speech was a masterpiece of the "We're not here to attack, or allege or even point the finger, we're just her to find The Truth" genre  (actual words by FiS founder Marai Cassilas in introducing Ali) ...followed by the soft attack, mild allegation and crooked if not pointed finger. Ali’s words led one to believe she and Secretary Duncan picked poor LAUSD for scrutiny from a hat in a lottery; no political axe to grind here!

But the meeting handouts told a different story: brochures in English, Spanish, Korean, Armenian and Tagalog: HOW TO FILE A DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT WITH THE OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS – inviting complaints based on discrimination or failure to provide access on the basis of race, color,national origin, sex, disability and age ...or (I'm not making this up) violations of the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. I was one once, the BSA enjoy special protection – they can discriminate against gays but no public school or public agency can discriminate against them - it's a federal crime!  Imagine telling a cellmate in Leavenworth (Bernie Madoff for instance) that you’re in the slammer for denying access to Boy Scouts!

LAUSD IS THE SECOND LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICT IT THE COUNTRY, it has the largest number of English Language Learners, That - and the fact Superintendent Cortines let them in – is why they're here. They've come to L.A. to take names, assign blame and kick butt. And it may be a good thing they are.

Secretary Ali seized the teachable moment and made the most of it, just as Duncan did on Monday when kicking off this crusade at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma Alabama – where better to talk about Education Being the Civil Rights Issue of the Twenty-first Century? Ali said she was at Duncan's side when he kicked off the English Language Learner campaign on the bridge 45 years after Bloody Sunday – and then went into passionate descriptions of the horrors of Bloody Sunday on March 9, 1965 when, she said with quiet resolve and hushed determination: "lots of people died on that bridge."

Nobody died on The Edmund Pettis Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965. Look it up.

Ali hadn't been born yet on March 9, 1965, Duncan was three months old; they crossed the bridge in 2010 in a photo op. They cannot be blamed or faulted for their youth ...but they are – or present themselves as - educators.

Mistelling the story belittles the event.

THAT SAID, we dispersed for breakout sessions with the real investigators, not their political leaders. There some real dialog happened, real thoughts and experience were shared. Oh sure – there was the usual bombast about billions in waste fraud and abuse, documented in spreadsheets that don't add add up – but actual English Language Learners shared ...and actual parents and actual teachers recounted actual experiences.

It also turns out that this great proactive compliance review by the Civil Rights Office will only focus on Local Districts 1 (West Valley) and Local District 6 (The cities of the Southeast) – both areas not really representative of Los Angeles and spectacularly underrepresented tonight.

This school district doesn't serve it's ELL population very well and it should. It doesn't serve its Special Ed population very well and it should. It doesn't serve its African-American population very well and it should. It doesn't serve its Disabled population very well and it should. It doesn't serve its Gifted population very well and it should. It doesn't serve its Parent population very well and it should.

This is a subject and a conversation that continues. Maybe we are well begun. Hopefully.

HERE IS AN ISSUE FOR THE OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS: In Southern San Diego County Minutemen routinely patrol PTA Meetings – to be sure only citizens get in.

1 comment:

Lara said...

The last line in this article is brilliant! Thank you for this piece. I am reposting on my facebook page.