Friday, August 25, 2017

A Public School's Shame

I am, as any reader of this blog knows, a huge supporter of public schools and public education. And that's why it's important that I make note of when a public school fails, and fails hard. Because as much as I love public education, if we let love blind us, we end up trying to defend the indefensible just because it came from our tribe.

I take no pleasure in noting this story. It's not far away. and it's appalling. The AP reports that five guardians of black students have filed a lawsuit against Woodland Hills High School over systemic and intentional discrimination against black students. In particular, the lawsuit cites five incidents:

In April, the Allegheny County district attorney said he was reviewing allegations that Steve Shaulis, a resource officer at the school, punched and knocked out the tooth of a 14-year-old freshman accused of stealing another’s student cellphone. Pictures of the freshman’s bruised face appeared online.

In May, video surfaced of Shaulis body-slamming a 15-year-old student in 2015 and shocking him with a stun gun.

A video from 2009 shows Shaulis shoving a student into a locker without apparent physical provocation, then shocking the student with a stun gun and arresting him.

One in 2010 shows a behavioral specialist lifting a student up against a locker and slamming him into the ground, breaking the student’s wrist. The student was charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct, the lawsuit said, but charges were withdrawn after a district attorney reviewed the video.

The fifth incident involved school principal Kevin Murray, who was caught on a recording last year threatening to punch a 14-year-old special education student in the face and “knock your ... teeth down your throat.” Murray resigned last week.

The school has suffered a long string of problems and unfortunate revelations. Their lawyer has suggested that this is just an ambulance-chasing lawyer who has tied together several widely separate instances, and while it may be true that the lawyer for the plaintiffs is not acting out of altruism and a burning desire for social justice, it doesn't really matter-- any one of these instances should have resulted in two reactions:

1) The rolling of a head or two

2) Some soul-searching by the school

In a school setting of any type, you don't get to say, "Well, maybe there is an issue here with racially-biased excessive violence. Let's see if  any more black kids get roughed up for no good reason." You don't even get to say, "He was mouthy and disrespectful, so I beat the crap out of him" because this is a school and we are the grownups and they, regardless of how big they are, are the kids.

Charters did not rise up in urban areas for no reason at all, and public schools don't get to say, "Who, us? We never do any bad stuff like that."

The argument about whether public or charter schools have a greater history or tendency of racism was kind of ridiculous-- bot have plenty of systemic racism in their backgrounds, and both are fully capable of harboring and nurturing racism right now, today. It's not okay. What happened at Woodland Hills is not okay. And at a public school, where we are charged to care for every single student, without exception, it is an even greater shame.

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