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, 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.