Monday, May 16, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

Since my last post, a great number of things have happened but nothing has been resolved. Hector Tobar of the LA Times wrote an article touching on many of the topics I wrote about (Thank you, Hector!). I submitted an op-ed for publication in the paper, dozens of people read my blog for the first time, a massive rally took place in Pershing Square, and I was finally called to the witness stand, only to be denied my hearing once again. I am beginning to feel like this would make a better novel or short story than anything else, since the twists the story continues to take are rather hard to believe.

Last Wednesday evening, my name appeared on the witness list for the following day, according to the UTLA web page. I geared up, made sure my thoughts were in order, and dug a pair of little-worn black slacks out of the closet. Back to the California Mart I went, sitting through only two other hearings that morning before it was to be my turn (one highlight was when the LAUSD lawyers questioned a librarian about whether he had a couch in his library).

The UTLA attorney who reviewed my case felt I had a good one. Not only do I have three current teaching credentials, but there had been a new development in their argument since I was there last. As it turns out, the recency rule that was threatening to banish me from the classroom forever says that one must have taught in a particular subject area within the preceding five years in order to return to that position. The word preceding, it dawned on the lawyers, could not include this year, the current year, because this year doesn't precede anything, except maybe next year, but since the rule was announced this year, the preceding five years stretch back to 2005-2006. An AH-HA moment, some would say. And oh, how I wanted to shout, "Ah HA!" at the LAUSD attorneys in that moment, because I had been in a traditional classroom in '05-06, so I would be, I presumed, saved.

When the judge called for the next witness and my name rang through the warehouse-like room, I began my walk to the stand with confidence. That is, until I heard the LAUSD attorneys say, "Your honor, this person is not a witness in these proceedings." Uh-oh. (And also, this person? I’m pretty sure that’s what they said. This person, like I am without an identity but just one of a massive herd, like cattle tagged for slaughter. This particular cow is not fit for consumption, your honor. We suspect unacceptable levels of contamination.)

As it turned out, neither the judge nor the prosecutors had me on their lists. This issue had supposedly been 'flagged' twice in the last week with no response from UTLA. A critical form had not been drawn up, signed by me, and submitted to the judge by a certain date, and so, no hearing for me. The judge accused someone of incompetency (poor guy) and then asked for the next witness.

So, what happened to cause all of this? I was furloughed and out of town when the legal papers arrived at my home and were due back to the district. I appealed to the union to declare me as a late-filer deserving of a hearing. I sent the union all the necessary paperwork. The paperwork was not processed. This took at least an hour for everyone to understand, and by that time the judge had called the lunch break. The UTLA lawyers informed me of two options. First, try to get LAUSD to agree to stipulate that I have recency and therefore can return to a classroom. Second, try to appeal to the judge to give me a hearing, even though the paperwork was not in order.

Before I explain what has happened since then, a few comments on these two options:

Option One: If the lawyers can just decide that I can go back to the classroom without bothering with a hearing, then why is anyone who was in a classroom in '05-06 even having a hearing (or am I the only one?)? If, in fact, the word preceding carries such weight, then shouldn't the court simply state that all librarians who were in a class that year are safe and be done with it?

Option Two: If I were the judge, I wouldn't give me a hearing at this point. After two weeks, they've only gotten through maybe 75 cases. The proceedings are supposed to be finished by June 2nd, for goodness sakes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, more cases to hear. Why in the world should they add another? I mean, yes, I'd like the opportunity, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense for them to add me back in. And yes, I'm a little ticked off that I did what I was meant to do and a paperwork snafu was my downfall, but I also understand that when thousands of people are filing paperwork through one office that is handling all of the organizational matters for a process like this, the law of averages dictates that somebody's papers get lost in the shuffle. It had to be someone, and it was just me.

At that point I was told that the best thing I could possibly do is show that I taught 7th grade English in 2005-2006 so that perhaps my recency could be officially established. I needed to prove this with some sort of documentation because, for some reason, LAUSD itself is unable to do so. My employer does not have a ready record of my employment. Figures.

The strange and absurd struggle I went through to do this is as follows:

  1. The easiest way would be to show my evaluation for that year. Too bad! I wasn't evaluated that year (tenured teachers are evaluated every other year).
  2. Or, I could have the principal from that school write a statement of my assignment. Sorry! She's retired.
  3. Hey, maybe I could call the school district to see if they have some sort of record that I actually taught English in one of their schools. Nope! IF they do, and they don't promise they do, it would be in storage and take weeks to find and, by the way, no one is going to go looking.
  4. Next idea, go to the school where I taught the elusive 7th grade English classes and track down someone who can help me contact the retired principal. A near success, but she's on vacation and won't be back in town for days.
  5. Perhaps my attendance and grade records are still on file at the school. That would work. But no, they are also in deep storage, or perhaps they've been purged, so try again.
  6. In a random stroke of luck, I discover that my husband actually works with the husband of the current principal of that school who is home on maternity leave. So my husband finds her husband at the food truck outside their building and explains the situation. Her husband calls her at home, disrupting some important mother-child bonding I am sure, and she agrees to call her office manager to see if they can dig a little deeper on my behalf. (Really, I am not making this up.)
  7. The next day, it dawns on me that I still know a counselor from that school, so I call her to see if she can access old records showing students' course assignments, and sure enough she can. She faxes me some student schedules showing I was their English teacher.
  8. The principal on maternity leave verifies my assignment and faxes me a statement.
  9. I take all of this back down to the basement of the California Mart on Friday afternoon where they have adjourned for the day. It takes all my strength to hand over these precious documents to the very people who failed to process the last set I gave them, but since I kept the originals and several sets of copies I made before arriving, I go ahead and do it.
And that, as they say, is that. I am no closer to knowing what will happen to my employment status with LAUSD. No overall ruling has been made about librarians as a group. No statement has been made about whether recency will extend to ’05-06 after all. No one has called or emailed me to let me know if the judge is going to rule in my favor, let me have a hearing, or kick me to the curb.

Now, our best chance as Teacher Librarians may be the media. A truly marvelous number of people read my last blog post and re-Tweeted, Facebooked, or blogged it. Hector Tobar’s article in the LA Times received more than 300 comments (some completely inane, but some truly heartfelt) and has been re-posted on countless other sites. Perhaps I will have an op-ed in place this week, perhaps a Librarian will be interviewed on NPR, and perhaps more and more attention will be paid to the problem.

As this story unravels (and as I unravel along with it), one comment posted on the LA Times article haunts me. The reader wondered why we Librarians think it would be ok for the district to allow us to stay at the expense of 87 other ‘regular’ teachers who would be laid off in our place. It’s a point that many people may feel compelled to make, and I will say this to those who find it to be a reasonable argument:

Teachers and teacher-librarians don’t want to bump one another out of a job. Restoring the TLs to their libraries, or even allowing them to return to traditional classrooms, does not have to cost another teacher his/her job. Of course there are budget shortfalls and of course changes must be made to how we use money in schools. The real question that needs to be asked here is how can the school district prioritize spending that leads to student achievement and eliminate spending that doesn't?

There are so many areas where the district could reduce spending in order to put students, teachers, and libraries closer to the top if its list. Like the $4.5 million dollars that was spent this year to develop a district version of the ‘value-added’ approach to looking at test scores (you may remember ‘value-added’ from the series of LA Times articles last year that caused quite a ruckus). There are already a million existing ways to look at and interpret data; we are swimming in data. That $4.5 million did not have to be spent that way, but it was. What we need to ask is why it was, at this moment in time, when true instructional programming is being slashed and burned?

As we are forced into increasingly tight financial corners, really awful decisions have to be made. So let's ask the questions that may lead to some answers, some actions, that we can be proud of in the end. What do we really care about when it comes to the education of our children, learning in general, and the uses of information? If we don’t care about libraries, if we don’t acknowledge their necessary function in any free, educated society, what will happen as a result?

I know, I know, this is quickly changing from an account of my personal experiences at the RIF trials into a deeper, philosophical rant that I may not even be qualified to facilitate. That is not my intention, but it's awfully hard to avoid.

Have you ever eaten a steamed artichoke? I just had one last night. It takes forever. You spend all this time pealing off leaf after leaf, sort of burning your fingers as you go (if you're like me and are too impatient to wait for it to cool). Then you finally get done with all of the outer leaves, and by that time you're pretty sick of artichoke, but you know that you're almost at the heart. Except then you have to get past all those finicky little hairlike things covering the heart, and they get all over the place, sort of like dandelion fluff, and when you finally get to eat the heart, some of the hairlike things get caught in your teeth and you decide that it's a whole lot easier just to buy a jar of marinated hearts than to do this, even though you know this is so much more natural and good for you. You know what I mean?

I think I'm only about halfway through the leaves of this massive artichoke of a problem and my fingers are scorched. I'm about to give it up and order a pizza.

1 comment:

turtlelearning said...

Nora - thank you for these wonderful posts!! Today I'm going to the inferno to hear arguments about recency and competency, and whether the 5 years includes this year or not. Perhaps something will be decided.