Friday, March 08, 2013

Curiouser and Curiouser

The more we consider the situation with Contemporary Issues/World Literature, the 12th grade humanities class at The Center School, the more puzzling it becomes. While there are a number of missing details from the public record, the elements in the public record simply don't reconcile. We are told that the District is following some kind of process in response to a complaint, but the process they are following is not the complaint process. We are told that the complaint was about personnel, but the curriculum has been subjected to suspension and review. Nothing adds up, the people who should be involved have not stepped up, people who should not be involved are deeply involved, and none of the people who are supposed to oversee this mess are doing it.
 
If we break it down, then maybe we can make sense of it.
Mr. Greenberg has been teaching this class for years. It is an established part of the Center School curriculum. The district has been through a number of curricular reviews and all classes now in the high school course catalog - including this one - have district approval. The district paid a lot of money to consultants to clean up the high school course catalog. The district created a lot of turmoil with curricular alignment. The course should be known to the district, we have reason to believe that it has already been reviewed and approved. Yet they are choosing to subject it to another review and suspend it while that review proceeds. Curious.
 
The course has always included class discussion and has always presented some personally challenging ideas about race, prejudice, bias, and privilege. By every account other than the complaint Mr. Greenberg has conducted these discussions with great sensitivity and respect. All views have been welcome and safe to express. Students have always had the option to excuse themselves from any class discussion. The complaint is the sole complaint to ever arise from this class. Whatever Mr. Greenberg did to intimidate or discriminate against this student was, judging by the record, out of the ordinary. Curious.
 
The complaint was not about the course, but about Mr. Greenberg. The statement by the district was clear:
"On Dec. 21, 2012, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in the Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies class included intimidating and discriminating actions, attitudes and classroom environment."
The complaint (intimidating and discriminating) would fall under Board Policies 3207 and 3210. The procedures for these types of complaints is clear. The procedure for intimidation complaints  (3207 SP-A) sets the standard for what rises to the level of "intimidation":
"Harassment, intimidation or bullying is an intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act that:
  1. Physically harms a student or damages the student's property; or
  2. Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student's education; or
  3. Is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or
  4. Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school."
The standard is futher defined as:
"Conduct that is "substantially interfering with a student's education" will be determined by considering a targeted student's grades, attendance, demeanor, interaction with peers, interest and participation in activities, and other indicators."
We are supposed to believe that the students was impacted to this extent, yet none of classmates know which student it is. Curious.
 
Both policies have procedures which are supposed to be followed in the event of a complaint. For 3207 the any staff member and then the school principal should attempt to resolve the complaint.
"All staff are responsible for receiving oral and written reports. Whenever possible, staff who initially receive an oral or written report of harassment, intimidation or bullying shall attempt to resolve the incident immediately. If the incident is resolved to the satisfaction of the parties involved, or if the incident does not meet the definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying, no further action may be necessary under this procedure.
All reports of unresolved, severe, or persistent harassment, intimidation or bullying will be recorded on a district Incident Reporting Form. Staff, students, or community reporters shall submit such forms to the principal or designee, unless the principal or designee is the subject of the complaint."
We know that the principal had a meeting with Mr. Greenberg and the student's family. We also know that this meeting did not result in a resolution that satisfied the family. That means that the Center School principal either determined that the inicident was not intimidation or discrimination or that the resolution proposed by the principal was unacceptable to the family. The principal's decision was overturned. Curious.

According to the procedure, the next step is for an investigation. The building leader and the District designee are supposed to determine, between them, who will conduct the investigation. The procedure says:
The investigation shall include, at a minimum:
  • An interview with the reporter and/or targeted student, if known;
  • An interview with the alleged aggressor;
  • A review of any previous complaints involving either the targeted student or the alleged aggressor; and
  • Interviews with other students or staff members who may have knowledge of the alleged incident.
We know this didn't happen because there are a number of other students in the class who would have knowledge of the alledged incident and none of them were interviewed. Curious.

The entire process is supposed to be very fast. No more than five days for the investigation and no more than two days for the results. The original complaint was made on December 21. Surely all of this should have been resolved by mid-January, but it has run much later. I don't know why. It could be due to delays in the investigation. It could be that the results of the investigation were unsatisfactory to the student's family and they appealed the decision. That appeal would have gone to the compliance officer - not to the superintendent. The next appeal after that goes to the School Board.

Complaints about discrimination follow a different procedure, the one for Policy 3210. These complaints go straight to the Manager of the Safety Department.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the investigator from the OEC or MSD will investigate the allegations and effect a prompt resolution ofthe complaint. When the investigation is complete, the investigator will provide the Superintendent with a full written report of the complaint and the results of the investigation.

The Superintendent will respond in writing to a formal complaint no later than thirty (30) calendar days following the district's receipt of the complaint, unless otherwise agreed to by the complainant. The Superintendent's written response shall clearly state whether the District:

(1) Denies the allegations contained in the complaint; or

(2) Confirms the allegations and lists the corrective measures that the District intends to take to eliminate the discrimination.
Again, this process is supposed to be quick and should have been complete by the end of January at the latest. This decision can be appealed to the school board.

In his statement, the superintendent wrote:
"Our Human Resources Department then launched an investigation of this complaint, as is our process."
Only now that we have reviewed the procedures, we can see that this is not, in fact, the process. Human Resources is not involved in any investigations under 3207 or 3210. Curious.

Nothing about how the district handled the complaint by the student makes any sense or follows the established procedure for those complaints.

That's all about the review of Mr. Greenberg's actions. Separate from that is the review of the course. According to the superintendent's statement:
At the request of the Superintendent, the Teaching and Learning Department reviewed this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum.
The committee is making a recommendation. So it's an advisory committee. There's a policy (4110) and a procedure (4110 SP) that govern advisory committees. These procedures were not followed. That's nothing new. The superintendent has yet to follow the procedures for any of his advisory committees.

Then comes the whole idea of reviewing a class. That's certainly within the district's authority, but there doesn't appear to be any authority for the superintendent to suspend instruction pending the review. Actually, there is no established procedure for this. Nor is there a policy that governs it. In the district course catalog, the class is regarded no differently than any other 12th grade social studies and language arts class. The class is supposed to contain enough depth and rigor to prepare students for the AP tests

Anna Minard of The Stranger reported that Superintendent Banda said nothing's changed about the process this complaint is going through, that it's still up to Shauna Heath, the executive director of curriculum and instruction at SPS. "It was a very formal complaint," he said, resulting in a review of the class to make sure "it's in line with how the curriculum should be taught," and the "suspension [of curriculum] was pending that review." He said his understanding is that the race curriculum was mostly finished and that the class wouldn't be starting the next portion, a unit on gender, for a couple weeks, and the review will be done before then. The review of the class, Contemporary Issues/World Literature, is supposed to be complete by Thursday, March 14.

The cap on all of this curiosity comes from the Board. At the March 6 Board Meeting, no fewer than five Board Directors said that there is a process for reviewing the class and that the District is following the process. That's simply not true. There is no process for reviewing classes. So what was the Board talking about? And shouldn't the Board know? Isn't it the Board's job to hold the superintendent accountable for following policies and procedures? Isn't the Board responsible for fostering a culture of compliance?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ye olde "lapses of due process" doth not make the judiciary look very just.

I found out what a witch cake was. They could try baking a bully/intimidation cake, if they are stumped and looking for ideas.

-nonamenocredit

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

My apologies, Salamander. I didn't see your name until the last second.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you can outline all the procedures in place and have it carved in stone outside JSCEE and every schools and it won't make much difference. If people would follow the policies in place, we wouldn't see so many "capricious and arbitrary" decision makings that go on in this distrcit. And that's everywhere from the classroom, to the building, to the school board, and the whole district.

This crazy district is chock full of policies and committees to cover just about everything, but its conduct show that it's more like an ungovernable, lawless Wild West where the biggest gun and pocketbook rule (wherever that may be: a classroom, a school, a board retreat or a district office). It's entrenched and very demoralizing. And more investigation by itself, the feds, by the state, outside auditor, by muckrakers or by the media isn't going to change much of this culture.

TGIF

Charlie Mas said...

The superintendent said that the review of the class was in response to the complaint, but the complaint was not about the class.

Curious.

mirmac1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan dempsey said...

Who are the district's employees that should have handled this mess?

Was the original formal complaint about course content?

-- Dan Dempsey

dan dempsey said...

It seems that policies and procedures are mearly weak "aspirational goals" with little connection to reality.

Anonymous said...

Jose Banda'e explanation to all via email today:

Dear students, staff, families and community,
 
At Seattle Public Schools, we teach more than just our core academic subjects. We expect our students to graduate with a well-rounded education that prepares them for the real world of college, careers and life.
 
Teaching social justice issues is an important part of academics for our students. These can often be difficult conversations, but they help prepare our students to become global citizens. I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice. However, these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age appropriate and non-threatening.
 
This week we heard about the Center School’s Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies course. I want to thank the many students who attended and spoke at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. This unique high school has a strong focus on social justice, and I know those discussions will continue to thrive in the school community. 
 
As background, on Dec. 21, 2012, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in this class created an intimidating and discriminating classroom environment. An investigation of this complaint found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did indeed create an intimidating educational environment for a student. I asked our team to help come up with a solution that will allow us to keep these important conversations, but will also make sure the curriculum is taught in a way that does not harm any student. 
 
In addition, I requested the Teaching and Learning Department to review this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum.
 
The committee made the following recommendations, which I am implementing.
 
The race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated, with the following actions occurring as soon as possible:
 
·         The race unit curriculum should be age appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.

·         When classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students or potential distress, families should be notified ahead of time and communication to families should include an option to complete alternative assignments.

·         There are concerns the current course does not meet the criteria of the College Board for Advanced Placement. In order to make sure the course meets AP standards, the course syllabus and objectives must be aligned with the stated course objectives for AP Language and Composition and American Government and Economics. The final syllabus must be resubmitted to the College Board, including all units and textual materials for approval.

·         The manner in which the course is taught must not violate School Board Policies 3207 and 3210, which require that we teach units in a manner that treats all students with respect, does not intimidate or harass students, and does not discriminate against students because of their race or gender.

I want to thank the members of the ad hoc committee for their review of the curriculum and situation. And I look forward to ongoing and healthy discussions about social justice, race and gender issues in our classrooms.

Sincerely,


José Banda
Superintendent
Seattle Public Schools

~ Sped Staffer

Anonymous said...

Nice. 4:45 on a Friday.

One and a quarter years to go.

Jan said...

Thanks, Charlie, for the post -- it would be so great (probably wont happen, but it WOULD be great) if we could get someone at the District to respond, point by point, you the items you raise. It would enlighten me -- and it sure sounds like it would enlighten them. I won't be holding my breath for it to happen.

Charlie Mas said...

Jan, that would only happen if a member of the Board asked for it.

While you or I might say that the Board should be asking for exactly this sort of thing because it is their duty to oversee adherence to policy, they regard that duty as significantly less important than maintaining a positive relationship with the superintendent.

They all talk about accountability, but they don't value it as much as "go along to get along" which is the very antithesis of accountability.

Anonymous said...

Irony can be so ironic.

Just this week, we find out that the feds are investigating SPS for disproportionate discipline outcomes based on race.

Then we find out that a teacher who, by all accounts (without knowing the details of the student who felt "threatened",)is trying to foster an understanding of root causes and perpetuation of racial unfairness in the good ole USA, and "liberal" (yeah, right!) Seattle in particular, and gets basically muzzled by the SPS legal department.

Wait until the feds uncover the rest of the injustice in this district (including the sacred cow called APP). By the time it's over, Greenberg may have a new job as a trainer of teachers and staffs on how to implement and teach the type of course he had the courage to try to implement in this faux-progressive city.

--enough already

Someone said...

This crazy district is chock full of policies and committees to cover just about everything - funny, my spouse and I were just talking about this the other day - how there are endless meetings and yet nothing ever gets done, no decisions ever get made and no one really knows what the other side of the hallway is doing.

Hardly surpising that they can't even follow what should be a rather clear cut procedure, as outlined by Charlie - sometimes I think the whole organism needs to be shut down and rebuilt from the bottom up - with actual real life - "do this and you lose your job" consequences - ah pipe dreams ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, can you blame them? They've got so many procedures and policies, it's impossible to follow them. So, they must just use them as a sort of "intent", and then do whatever they think is best. That's the problem with regulations - they take on a life of their own, when really it is common sense that is needed. We don't know the facts about the Center School thing, nor how far up it went, just that there was a problem. My guess is that it must have gone up quite a ways - because, anybody who has ever had an issue with the school knows - practically nothing ever gets done, and classes and/or reprimands are NOT something we see often (or ever).

-parent