Politics

LAUSD Principal Focuses On Real Miramonte Criminals: The Children

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It's the students' fault for calling this a cucaracha instead of a cockroach.

One of the many privileges of having kids in the Los Angeles Unified School District is the accelerated education they get in official corruption, the stupidity of grownups, union strong-arming and many other topics – any topics other than reading, writing and arithmetic, that is. 

The recent sex-abuse arrests of two teachers at Miramonte Elementary have become a feature of playground scuttlebutt and official conniptions. The school my children attend (separated from Miramonte by more than 15 miles, though both schools score in the "Least Effective" category in the L.A. Times' value-added assessment) is no exception. 

Yesterday my daughters brought home copies of a flyer containing the principal's thoughts on the scandal. I guess this page of skylarking was intended to reassure us or something. I wouldn't take note of it at all except that one paragraph illustrates the pathology of public employees with stunning clarity: 

As I reflect on the disturbing occurrences at Miramonte, I am more confused over the fact that the children did not report. How is it that the children did not believe that what the teacher was doing to them was wrong? How could being blindfolded, placed in a closet, and having cockroaches placed on them not be wrong? I believe that the teachers involved in these heinous acts preyed on the most vulnerable of the children; children of poverty, children of abuse, children with uninvolved parents, and children of undocumented parents. 

The principal's insistence on repeating lurid details from the newspapers is between her and her god. This person is a martinet with a habit of logorrhea that expresses itself in nightly robocalls and long assemblies during which parents are upbraided for such crimes as parking on the street while delivering and picking up students, cutting into the school's funding by keeping kids home from classes, not contributing during fundraisers, and so on. 

But look again at that paragraph. There is no way around the logic: She is arguing that it was the kids' fault for not reporting the incident. And since public school is a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims, the children are also described as victims who have suffered from the depredations of poverty and abuse, of "uninvolved" and undocumented parents. Her focus on the kids' purported failure to speak up may be intended as an "if you see something say something" advisory, but the focus itself is what is revealing. The inadequacy of the students and their parents, not the negligence of the school or the district, is to blame. 

As it happens, my kids' principal is wrong on the facts: Mark Berndt, the more prominent of the two accused teachers at Miramonte, was the subject of complaints on at least two occasions: in 1994 and 2008. Administrators at the school and the district failed to take action either time. 

Another thing that the principal fails to note: Berndt has been accused, not convicted. For criminal purposes he is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and that would be true even if he were not represented by a public-sector union. The difference between a schoolteacher and, for example, an employee of Disneyland or Burger King, is that Berndt couldn't be fired when the suspicions first came up. That's not an idle comparison. Here's what happened to a Burger King employee, his co-workers, and his manager, when he was caught doing something a lot less objectionable than what Berndt is accused of: 

I generally dislike this principal's jawboning (and I'm particularly bothered that her campaign of petty discipline has coincided with a nose dive in the school's Academic Performance Index score). But in this case I appreciate her candor. That both teachers and administrators view parents and students as the enemy is an open secret. But it's rare that you see it expressed so baldly. 

L.A. teachers doing what comes naturally — telling lies: