They can't keep blaming our Families!!

root - Posted on 27 February 2007

South Los Angeles Parents and Children Demand Decent Education as a Human Right

by Gretchen Hildebrand/PNN L.A. Correspondent

"The stories you will hear tonight are not supposed to happen.” Parent and CADRE (Community Asset Development Re-Defining Education) member Naomi Haywood stood on the low stage at the front of the packed meeting room. The parents and students from the South Los Angeles community that filled the room mirrored Haywood's frustration and outrage. They exploded into applause for her and co-facilitator Linda Sanchez as they set the stage for last Wednesday's People's Hearing on the institutionalized "push-out" of children of color from the Los Angeles public school system.

"This is a human rights crisis," continued Haywood, engaging the almost entirely African-American and Latino crowd in rhythmic alternation with Sanchez, who spoke in Spanish. "students and parents - have a human right to dignity, education and participation!" The crowd responded with passion. Each seemed to have their own story of how District 7 schools in South Los Angeles had pushed their children out of public school, through the systematic application of punishments intended to humiliate and suspensions and "opportunity" transfers that often exile students from their own education.

Many in the crowd wore CADRE's bright green t-shirts, and had already come to this community organization with their struggles to obtain a respectful and meaningful education for their children. Haywood herself was one such parent. When her son was in middle school, partial blindness in one of his eyes was slowing down his learning. Despite this, his teacher made him sit far from the board and insisted that he was "just lazy."

Haywood was only notified of the situation when her son had already been suspended, after he had been disciplined several times by the teacher for acting out. When Haywood brought in a doctor's note describing her son's disability, her son's teacher brushed her off, saying she didn't care. Eventually her son missed two weeks of school before the administration agreed to meet her son's needs. "It wasn't til I went to CADRE that I learned that I have a basic human right to participate in my son's education. The school just treated us like WE were the problem.

Luckily Haywood's son is still in school, although she still worries about the threats of suspension and discipline that are leveled at him because of his disability. Beyond her concern, she is also angry that her son could be so easily denied an education by a system that prefers to punish rather than educate low-income students of color.

CADRE was formed in 2001 by low-income parents of color in South Los Angeles who believed that decent education for their children was a basic human right that was being systematically denied to them by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). While working to educate parents in their community about their right to be involved in their children's education, CADRE parents found they all had stories similar to Haywood's and often worse. And the results of the discipline procedures are what CADRE calls a direct path to poverty or prison.

The hard data collected by CADRE supports this theory. Public high schools in South LA have the highest suspension rates in the city. These schools also have the lowest graduation rates. For every 100 ninth-graders, as few as 24 receive diplomas, with the average graduation rate in schools like Fremont, Locke, Jordan ranging from 24% to 42%. This crisis is happening in districts that are primarily African-American and Latino. In nearby Whitney High School, in a district where Black and Latino people made up less than 20% of the census tract, the suspension rate was 0%, and the graduation rate 93%.

Many from the audience were there to share heartbreaking stories of the pain they and their children have experienced at the hands of this system. A shy woman in a long a flowing skirt told in Spanish of how her daughter had been suspended 5 times because the school felt that they couldn't stop the other children from hitting her. Even though she was the victim of other children's behavior, her daughter received no help in making up her work and is now so far behind that she may not graduate. Worse was that her daughter, who once loved learning, has "turned into a person full of resentment."

Another parent told the story of a CADRE member who tried several times to arrange a meeting with administrators and teachers to discuss her son's suspension. After being stood up twice, finally one teacher showed up to a third meeting. Instead of listening to the parent's frustrations at this treatment, the teacher called security to have her removed from the school. "If they don't want to deal with angry parents, they need to give us the proper respect, to let us know when a red flag goes up.

All outrageous, the parents stories have common themes, the sense that their children are being humiliated by their punishments, one parent told of her child being subjected to taunts while picking up trash in a courtyard. Parents also find themselves excluded from decisions made for their children, while schools show little effort to address the problems that may be interfering in their education, whether they are learning disabilities, behavior issues, or a lack of safety and support available in the school. The commonality between all these students was that they lost access to education when punished, and not given a chance to catch up – and many of them are encouraged give up.

In CADRE's recent report, More Education, Less Suspension, data on school drop-out rates is backed up with a survey looking to find out why students leave school before graduation. In a study of 120 such former students, CADRE found a systematic pattern of suspensions being extensively overused in the absence of other disciplinary techniques, which were applied in disregard to the impact on the child's education. Many of the students who left school did so after a series of suspensions and many were advised to leave by teachers and school administrators.

Parents and students who had undergone school suspensions were also interviewed, uncovering the mistreatment that many felt subject to in the public school system. Their children weren't listened to or respected in the discipline process. One of the students at the hearing told a story of a classmate being dragged in handcuffs to the dean's office because he wouldn't pull up his pants. Angry at this treatment, he made the point, "The principles of behavior and respect that they want us to use should apply to staff, too." Tellingly, the report also found that African-American students in particular were subject to a higher proportion of suspensions.

The implications are clear: low-income students of color are subjected to a system that denies them respect, and in many cases, an education at all. The "drop-out" crisis in their community is really a "push-out" crisis supported by these institutionalized disciplinary practices.

The parents of CADRE were present to stand up for their children's right to an education with dignity, as well as their right to be a part of decisions that impact their children. "We do not have to accept this, and nor do our children," insisted Haywood, "as primary stakeholders of our children's futures, we deserve to be a part of the process."

Will the LAUSD listen? Perhaps. One Board Member-elect, Monica Garcia from District 2, sat through several hours of testimony and then addressed the crowd, saying,"I'm listening." While she gave respect to CADRE and the students present, no specific promises were made. And in the absence of more official power in the room, most media outlets passed over the event.

But CADRE isn't waiting for promises, they are urging the LAUSD to pass a resolution implementing a Discipline Foundation Policy, now a draft bulletin at the Board, that would reshape the principles behind the school district's policy and implementation. Their demands are simply that the LAUSD commit to a policy preserving students human right to dignity, a right to education, and a right to parent participation and monitoring in discipline implementation. CADRE is in effect, demanding accountability from the system that prefers to blame students and their parents for its own failure. They will be at the LAUSD's next meeting on Tuesday, June 27th from 4:30- 6:30 (333 South Beaudry Ave.) to present their demands with parent power.

An insightful note did come from Board Member-elect Garcia, who insists, "I got it." She does seem to, as she noted that urban education in America has been underserved for centuries. To make a goal of 100% of kids graduating from high school in LAUSD schools, she added, is nothing short of revolutionary.

As one parent led the room in the chant "Parent - Power!" it was clear that there was revolution in this room, in the righteous and insistent voices of parents who have seen their children suffer and be denied enough and will not back down. And in the face of such staggering educational inequities, their movement will only grow.


Sign-up for POOR email!