Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cheerleaders at Serra High are unhappy about equal access law; parent Sally Smith thrown off Site Council

See other Sally Smith posts.

See Jim Groth posts.

Until teachers learn to discuss issues openly instead of shutting people up, schools will be run by cliques, not the public.

I know from experience that one can advocate very well from outside school committees, but the Serra High School situation has developed into something that I believe is a teachable moment for schools and the public.

We have a situation that typifies what schools teach students about democracy and the rule of law: if someone makes you uncomfortable, or demands that the law be obeyed, throw them off the committee.

Teachers need to develop a new bag of tricks.

Anger is mother's milk to teachers, and teachers lounges are breeding places for it. I've seen it firsthand at the four schools I taught at.

At one school I taught at years ago, staff meetings developed into two-hour long sessions of yelling at the principal, and if you had to go pick up your kid at daycare, the other teachers resented it deeply. They wanted everyone to partake fully in the anger fest.

At another school, current CTA bigshot Jim Groth got mad at me because I wouldn't sign a petition that said the principal was mentally ill. I was only willing to sign a petition that asked for an end to specific practices.

The mental illness charge is a favorite. It's frequently used against principals who commit the sin of criticizing popular teachers. Parents, teachers and kids who don't fall into lock step with the ruling clique also get the label. But I've seen teachers with such a deep sense of victimhood, anger and paranoia that I have come to the conclusion that schools need to offer more mental health support for teachers.

At issue at Serra High School is a law requiring schools to give equal access to all students regardless of income. It is an important law.

Instead of trying to silence a parent who asked that the law be obeyed, why didn't the athletic director of Serra High School tell cheerleaders that they needed to find a way to obey the law? Perhaps they could campaign for a special cheerleader tax, or for an end to Prop 13, or simply conduct a fundraiser for athletics.

Teachable Moments: Parent to be booted off Serra site council

By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
January 10, 2010

This afternoon it appears that San Diego Unified School District parent Sally Smith will be ousted from her seat on Serra High School’s School Site Council.

Smith, an activist in San Diego Unified, has made a name for herself with her relentless efforts to eliminate parent fees for curricular and extra-curricular activities, including sports and after-school programs. She said student representatives on the Serra site council “are angry with me about the fees issue and how it affects their athletic programs.”

A call for details made last Friday to the school’s principal, Michael Jimenez, was not returned. And the school’s site council Web page, which was active on Friday, was blank by Sunday night.

She said the school’s principal told her the site council students decided on their own to vote her off the site council. The three student representatives include two field hockey/soccer players and a cheerleader, she said.

[Maura Larkins comment: How would the principal know that? Was he listening to all conversations on the matter between the students and adults?]

Smith claims some of the school’s cheerleaders approached her daughter, a student at Serra, and asked her why her mother is “trying to get rid of cheerleading and sports.” Smith said the cheerleaders pay $1,000 each to be on the squad.

She said the students, parents and staff don’t understand the law that prohibits charging families for school activities, based on equity and fairness for low-income children, and that they are trying to “shoot the messenger” instead.

However, the school’s athletic director, Jonn Pisapia, and at least one parent, complained that the real issue is that Smith laughed at a student when the student struggled to express her view that it was unfair to impose fees that would eliminate popular programs.

In an email dated Dec. 7, after last month’s Serra SSC meeting, Pisapia wrote, “I am concerned with the conduct that I witnessed today at the SSC meeting that was held in the media center. Students brought to the table concerns that they had and while doing so one of the students was laughed and snickered at by Mrs. Smith. The student was speaking on something near and dear to her heart. These students are not only speaking for themselves but for many students and are trying to understand the process and the events that are taking place around them...

Serra parent Loraine Gutierrez de Hurtado wrote to SDUSD school board members on Jan. 8, and referred to the incident at the Dec. 7 school site council meeting when she said she “witnessed a student representative on the council, a child, reduced to tears while addressing Ms. Smith and Ms. Smith’s inappropriate response was one of laughter.”

She asked “that Sally Smith be removed from the SSC as a parent representative, that her physical presence be restricted from SHS grounds.”

After Smith notified Jimenez, Serra’s principal, that she wished to videotape the Jan. 11 school site council meeting, she received a note from SDUSD General Counsel Mark Bresee, who wrote, “Please be advised that, in my opinion, you have no right to video and/or audio tape the meeting without the consent of those who are recorded.”...

[Maura Larkins' comment: I feel like crying, not laughing, to know that students are being taught to manipulate the law in order to violate it. I can certainly see that someone might be startled into a laugh of disbelief when a student asks her, "Why are you bringing up this law now?" In my experience, attorney Mike Bresee has previously worked to damage people with subjective allegations while at the same time keeping solid evidence out of the record. He knows very well that you can't stop someone from recording an open meeting of decision-makers at a public entity.]


Leo said...

It's been said many times, the reason Sally Smith was voted off the council is because she was inappropriate and rude to a student on the council. She acts like a bully, and frankly has tired out everyone at Serra High School. She constantly makes allegations and conspires in lawsuites to the school staff. Her allegations are always proved false. The school has had enough of her, and intend to not let bullies have free reign.

Maura Larkins said...

To Leo:
Are you saying that the reason Smith was ousted was that staff was angry because she had criticized them? It seems to me that public employees must put up with complaints from taxpayers and voters. Smith still has the right to criticize, but it appears that removing her from the committee was intended to silence her. Those who are hostile to her wanted to flex their muscles, to punish and intimidate. Clearly, one of Smith's criticisms was that fees were being charged illegally. That allegation appears to be true. What were the allegations that you consider to be false? There was recently a case about a woman who was removed from a board because of her views. The court ordered that she be reinstated.

Anonymous said...

Don't assume that the Cheerleaders are angry. Did you interview all of them as well as the parents, coaches, and advisors? The Cheerleaders have nothing to do with her getting voted off the council. The money they pay is to purchase uniforms and in the handbook it states that the standard uniform is a white shirt and black shorts. Technically there is no $1,000 payment and there is no purpose in making a big deal out of it. Girls are given fundraising opportunities as well as sponsor letters so Sally Smith did not have any evidence to back up her accusations. She terrorizes the people at Serra High School and it was a very good move to try to get her as far away as possible so that our school no longer feels like a hostile environment. She brings up things that aren't necessary so hopefully our school can get back on track!

Maura Larkins said...

Dear Anonymous:
It sounds like you do talk to the cheerleaders. Are they angry or not?

I am intrigued by your comment: "Technically there is no $1,000 payment." Technically? You mean since they are given fundraising opportunities and they have sponsors, and the $1,000 payment isn't all coming from their parents? Hmmm. It still sounds like a payment to me. It sounds like you are admitting that there is a $1,000 payment. But I'm still wondering, if, as you say, the money is for buying uniforms, why a white shirt and black shorts would cost $1,000? Are you leaving something out?

Maura Larkins said...

I believe that the Site Council's action was anti-democratic and illegal, a violation of an SSC member's right to free speech. This type of issue should be decided at election time for Site Council Members. The action not only silences Sally Smith, it also silences, through intimidation, the other parent SSC members.