[Sent snailmail to each California state senator and assemblyperson.]
January 8, 2003
You are receiving this correspondence because we assume that concern about the quality of public education must be among the top priorities of every elected member of government. It is no less important than, say, the safety of the food and water supply or of national security. It could easily be argued that when education goes wrong in a democratic society, little else goes right. Do not make the mistake of dismissing the case we will describe below as an anomaly. It is emblematic of a widespread disorder. Probably every school district has at least one classroom similar to this one. Multiply that by the number of years in a teacher's career, and that by the number of children negatively effected each year, and the result must alarm every thinking citizen.
On November 20, 2002, a gathering of people representing approximately a dozen families residing in Vacaville, California convened in the home of one of the group's members. Those present were mothers, fathers and one grandparent. I was invited as a representative of Parents and Teachers against Violence in Education to listen to their concerns and advise if possible.
What these families have in common is that they all have a child in the same 2nd grade class in a Vacaville public school, and that they believe that their children are exposed to a dangerous level of chronic mistreatment and mismanagement by a teacher who is apparently unqualified for the job. The problem is compounded by the administration's refusal to promptly assess the situation and to rectify matters so that the children are safe. Moreover, some of the parents say that their complaints have been brushed aside, that they have been stonewalled and even threatened. At a meeting with the Superintendent, on November 22, a group of parents were told that there is "no evidence" that anything is wrong in the class. They were told that a qualified observer who visited while class was in session saw nothing wrong. In an apparent attempt to intimidate them, the parents were warned that if anyone refused to send their child to school, "someone might be knocking at their door."
Following are some of the experiences of the families as they described them at the November 20th meeting.
Any recipient of this letter who wishes to speak directly with the families involved is invited to call me at 925-831-1661. I will inform them of your interest. A copy of this letter has been sent to Solano County Child Protective Services.
January 24, 2003
Regarding the Vacaville letter, these parents are running into a Catch 22 of our educational system. It is very hard for a school district to discharge, or even severely discipline a tenured teacher. While this seems harsh for parents, the system is designed to protect teachers against sham discipline for political or religious views, a historical problem in education. Where a teacher's activities violate the educational code, the parents should have an attorney contact the school system. Because an attorney approaches it professionally, not emotionally, a principal or superintendent may give the issue more consideration. An attorney should also be familiar with the state law -- education code and governmental immunity statute -- applicable to the issue.
School districts themselves are usually protected by government immunity. I currently have this issue, strictly as to corporal punishment, before the Michigan Court of Appeals. If the teacher is committing an "intentional tort" -- hitting children, for example -- that is not protected by immunity, he or she may be sued individually. Abuse of constitutional proportions may also subject the teacher to a lawsuit under 42 USC 1983, an 1871 civil rights law that provides for action against "state actors" violating a person's constitutional rights. If there is evidence that the abuse is part of a school policy -- not likely because most districts really are well run by well meaning but overworked individuals -- the district is not immune as to constitutional violations.
The people involved are welcome to call, write, or email me regarding the matter. However, I am not licensed in California and speaking with me would not substitute for consultation with an attorney practicing in that state.
Jeffrey Z. Dworin
January 24, 2003
I do not want to be quoted publicly but if this woman isn't psychotic, I surely missed something in training. [Anon.]
January 24, 2003
The Vacaville case is notable because it indicates how emotional/psychological abuse of children is considered the norm in many schools. I suspect that it is far more rampant, and ultimately more damaging in terms of the number of children affected, than physical abuse. It says a great deal about the entire school system in many jurisdictions -- a system in which the educators have a monopoly on public education, and abuse their monopoly powers. Their attitude is that your child has to go to school, so they can do anything they want to your child, without being accountable to anyone.
My son had a similar experience with an emotionally abusive teacher, and became terrified of going to school, to the point of being suicidal. I, too, was stonewalled by an unaccountable educational bureacracy.
I took the following steps:
1. I took my child to a child psychologist who determined that my child had been traumatized by his teacher, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the teacher's behavior. 2. I talked to a lawyer about a basis for a lawsuit for damages, including emotional pain and suffering; denial of my childs right to a satisfactory (i.e. non-abusive) education; potential loss of future income for my son as a result of the psychological damage inflicted on him by his educators; costs for ongoing therapy to recover from the trauma; costs of my time off work, etc.
3. I withdrew my child from school, and began homeschooling. In my opinion, I would have been guilty of severe negligence as a parent if I had continued to send my child into what I believed to be a severely abusive situation. The educational authorities attempted to intimidate me, and insisted on meeting with me regularly to review my homeshooling curriculum, and my child's progress, or else there would be legal action. I told them that I would be happy to go to court, as I had an expert psychologist who would testify as to the trauma inflicted on my child, and that I had retained a lawyer who believed that I had a strong case to sue for damages.
4. The results: The educational authorities now leave us alone. The school Principal resigned. The school Trustee (elected representative for our ward) didn't run in the next election. It has taken several years, but my son is recovering well. At this point, we can look back on the experience as something that has made him (and me) stronger, and better prepared for other bullies we will inevitably meet in life. I don't think that our educational system can be easily changed. The teachers have too much of a vested interest in remaining unaccountable to the parents who are expected to entrust their children to the teachers' care. All we can do as parents is to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our children.
January 23, 2003
These families need to make as much noise as possible. Call an attorney, call the local dept of children services, the department of disability services, the local childrens actions groups, the local legislators, the school board, the superintendent of schools, the peditricians association, the governor's office, anyone and everyone who has anything to do with children's issues, encourage others to write letters on their behalf. Each telephone call needs to be direct, with the statement of "I am comitted to putting a stop to this behavior towards my child and I am committed to calling whomever I need to, taking whatever legal action I need to to end this behavior. I will not quit until this matter has been resolved." (Then mention the next telephone call which will be placed when this one ends.)
By putting as many responsible I statements and placing this issue out there in a solution oriented manner, the parents will not increase the defensiveness of the administrators or incur their need to protect their employees. What this style of communicatin does is show responsible parents who are not going to go away until the powers that be resolve the issue.
Ask others to write letters as well. Tell officials you will contact the Department of Human Services National Office, the National Child Abuse Prevention Office, etc......
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