"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Mother's message to LAUSD Trustee Nury Martinez

First published on EchoParkPatch

"If there's one thing I hope comes out of this is that Ms. Martinez thinks about the incident and reflects upon how she and the other board members ignored our community's voices throughout the entire process." — Windy Anne Bunts O'Malley

I was on holiday with my wife visiting her family in Daegu, Korea when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to take away the only form of input communities and parents had in the so-called Public School Choice (PSC) privatization process. While I wasn't surprised when checking my email that Mayor Villaraigosa's corporate cabal killed the advisory vote and hence democracy, I was shocked and appalled to read that a LAUSD Trustee called one of our very own mothers from the diverse Echo Park Moms 4 Education a racist. As soon I returned Stateside, I sat through the LAUSD Board meeting footage to witness the incident.

After a profound and heartfelt speech defending democratic processes by local mother Windy O'Malley, LAUSD Trustee Nury Martinez, long thought to be a moderate among the Mayor's school privatization camarilla, hurled the most malicious, defamatory, and slanderous accusations towards a mother whose background and leanings couldn't be further from the venomous claim. I was so taken aback, that while I made the clip featuring the speech and the vicious accusations hurled by Ms. Martinez available to a wider public, I decided I needed to take some time before penning an article in response lest I would write in anger. I said as much at the time.

The video is linked to this article, and is also available on YouTube. I suggest viewing it before reading further.

Ms. O'Malley's speech is so moving and powerful that you see Echo Park Moms 4 Education's Eva Rivas, who was standing behind her, wipe away tears several times.

Nury Martinez's outrageous accusations begin at the 2:28 mark of the video.

I have to tell you something, I did read your emails. And you know why I didn't respond? It was probably one of the most racist emails that I got, and I didn't even know how to respond to someone that...

When Ms. O'Malley interrupts in objection to the astonishing accusations, Ms. Martinez immediately backtracks realizing what she has said and, more importantly, what she has revealed about the entire PSC process and its supporters:

Ma'm I didn't say you, I said part of the process... I said part of the emails that I received, I didn't say it was you. I said that's why I didn't respond to those emails. I can show them to you, I'm more than happy to show them to you.

Before providing any commentary or analysis, I want to get right to the interview with Ms. O'Malley. We were overlooking soon to be corporately occupied Central Region Elementary School (CRES) #14 from her patio, which made the discussion that much more poignant.

Now that it's weeks away from when the incident happened, how do you feel?

I've been somewhat depressed after the fact, I was so shocked at what she [Ms. Martinez] said on top of everything we went through with this whole process. That school displaced so many people from this neighborhood. We worked so hard to make the community plan happen, and they didn't listen to us at any point in the process. It's like what she said was based on her preconception of our community without ever getting to know us.

How did you feel when she first said what she said?

How dare she? By saying that in a public forum... which I've never heard another public response, so I felt that was so exceptional, so it stood out. She was only saying that about me as an individual, and me as a parent in the community, and it was it was shocking, and degrading, and upsetting.

It's not at all true, and it's not at all fair to assume that of anybody. That's not okay, it's just not okay. Immediately I would have liked an apology, but an apology, like I always tell my four year old daughter: when you say things that hurt people you can apologize, but the things you've done aren't gone.

You need to pay attention to yourself, like any child needs to learn that they need to pay attention before they speak.

I would like to see an acknowledgment of a clear preconception of a community and turning them into an adversary instead of accepting them as the community that deserves to be heard.

Like you suggest, our community was patently ignored by the privatization minded members of the board. How did you, as a member of the group of mothers you're involved with, feel about the process?

I felt that this was the truth the whole time, and I tried to reach out to some friends who know them [the board members], and when I suggested that this was going on, they thought no way, that couldn't be the case.

It can't be okay, it's not okay.

I would like to see an acknowledgment and a real change, because there's going to be a whole other round of choice, and Eunice was there speaking for a community that's under attack and they deserve and should have a place at the table. I asked all along for a place at the table, and they shut us out.

Had the school board members really read the proposal, really read it, they would have seen a clear front runner that considered this community, and those kids are suffering now, because we're not getting that.

Talk a little bit about the actual organizing Echo Park Moms 4 Education did on behalf of trying to make CRES #14 a public school.

What we did in the community is we gathered signatures in the community that were within walking distance. Every single person I talked to I said "I wrote this petition and I'm hoping the community will support this plan, but I want you to hear about the plan and write down what you want. That's why there was such a big comments section. Write down what you want and I will be the person that navigates this crazy system where they don't want to hear from us. I'll do that because not everybody can go to school board meetings, and the fact that we had to sleep there [The Beaudry Building] all night long, that's just so absurd. They're not opening it up to parents, they're not opening it up to the community.

We really thought that we were not only grass roots and legitimate, but we actually thought we had a chance... but now looking back and understanding the dynamics, there wasn't a chance.

Any closing words for LAUSD Board Member Nury Martinez?

If there's one thing I hope comes out of this is that Ms. Martinez thinks about the incident and reflects upon how she and the other board members ignored our community's voices throughout the entire process.

Although I had met Ms. O'Malley briefly on several occasions at events that had promoted the public school choice for CRES #14, I had never really sat down and spoken with her. I interviewed her at her home, where I met her wife and two young daughters. I've never been to a more welcoming family environment. Their family is everything that's right about the inclusiveness of Echo Parque, and I was humbled by the experience.

Weeks after the fact, Nury Martinez sent a "sorry if you misunderstood what I said" fake apology that was probably more offensive in both its condescending tone and vapidness than the original affront.

So what can we make of a school board member who voted to give our school to a private corporation, voted to eliminate the modicum of democracy from the privatization process known as PSC, and who also made such vicious accusations towards a kind hearted mother from our community, who happens to be part Latina (Ms. O'Malley was quick to point out that despite that, Ms. Martinez would have been out of line saying that to anyone)?

To be fair to Ms. Martinez, there's always a group of xenophobic racists gushing with nativism and hate speech. Anytime LAUSD is mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, a host of supremacists and minutemen spew vitriol about undocumented peoples (of course, that's not the phrase they use) in the comments. In fact, within days of posting the LAUSD video on YouTube, a white supremacist posted racist comments on it, which I promptly deleted after responding and archiving. That's not the first nor the last time I've been attacked by real racists for defending civil rights.

Problem is, that's not what this was about at all, and Ms. Martinez knew that before she uttered a word. What this was about was silencing any dissent against the lucrative privatization of our public schools, and the filtering out any parents or community members that actually represent their constituent communities instead of well funded astroturf 501C3 groups. The fringe right wing Coalition for School Reform [1] backed school board members, consisting of Monica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan, Richard Vladovic, and Nury Martinez are instructed by their handlers to ignore their constituents at all costs.

What easier way is there to silence an activist parent than to make specious charges of racism? Is there a more convenient way to ignore the hopes, dreams, and desires of an entire community then to tar them with a brush of acrimonious innuendo?

Since Echo Park Moms 4 Education isn't funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Walton Family Foundation, has no silver tongued CEO or Executive Director making a six figure salary, and doesn't have the wherewithal to purchase a plethora of identical t-shirts and force themselves to memorize privatization talking points by route, LAUSD's Ms. Martinez needed an easy way to silence them. In the process she did more than denigrate and defame a single mother, she maligned an entire community. I guarantee that the emails from our groups, Coalition for Educational Justice and Echo Park Moms 4 Education were not the emails Ms. Martinez conveniently referred to.

While the privatization minded LAUSD board members give a lot of lip service to parents and community having input, in reality they discourage anything of the sort. Professor Noam Chomsky says of politicians like those LAUSD Board Members backed by the Coalition for School Reform:

"...has to do with the question of how they get into the position where they have the authority to make decisions. The way they do that, of course, is by serving people with real power. The people with real power are the ones who own the society, which is a pretty narrow group." [2]

Just so happens that those with real power are the ones pushing corporate charter schools and other forms of school privatization.

How does this look in practice? The LD4 and Echo Park Community Partners Design Team Plan had overwhelming community support (not to mention having been recommended by the LAUSD Superintendent Cortines). So much so, that our community voted for it over the CNCA corporate charter school by a more than 2 to 1 margin! Our local parents and community activists gathered hundreds of signatures from people within the attendance boundary on petitions, but when they tried to present those petitions to former LAUSD Board Member Yolie Flores, they were told by her staffers that they couldn't accept anything like that because it would give the impression of bias.

Flores and the other privatization pushing LAUSD Board members had no such reservations for the plutocrat funded poverty pimps otherwise known as Families That Can (FTC), an astoturf organization that serves as a proxy for the California Charter Schools Association trade group. In fact, the billionaire backed FTC boasted about how they were able present a petition in favor of privatizing more LAUSD schools including CRES #14 to the Board. Here is a portion of a redacted email from an Echo Parque parent that is on the FTC mailing list and had been following the CRES #14 saga quite carefully:

The problem is that in fact in the last 6 weeks Camino Nuevo has been on the LAUSD Board meeting agenda twice. They have had time to talk about their "success" their applications and have parents speak on their behalf. 

This Tuesday when we we told we would be "out of order" to speak about CRES #14 and our support of the community plan, other parents were allowed to speak:

Eugenia Henriquez is a parent who lives near Central Region Elementary School #14, a new K-8 that will open in Echo Park this fall. Two of her children currently attend an LAUSD pilot school. "We need more middle and high schools that have strong academic results, that really involve the parents in their children's education," said Henriquez. "Please support Camino Nuevo to be the school operator - I've heard great things, that 97% of students graduate and that they prepare them for the university. I want the best for my kids." [3]

You can read about all the charter comment on this blog another Echo Park Mom 4 Education found. http://www.familiesthatcan.org/2011/03/families-that-can-delivers-5300-parent-letters-to-the-lausd-school-board.html
The other time CN had an audience with the School Board was 2/1/11. They are on the agenda but I can not read the minutes. Yolanda Beckels, did tell us that public comment was made in support of Camino Nuevo for Cres #14 at that meeting.

Special Board Meeting 2-1-11 Start: 02/01/2011 - 3:00pm

So here is our question, what do we do about this? We should have been on the agenda twice as well?

This shows us the BIAS. 

We see how this works. If you're an actual group of unfunded parents from a community gathering signatures from other parents and community members, LAUSD cannot accept your petitions or even listen to you, lest they may be accused of bias. If you're a right wing astroturf group like FTC funded by privatization pushing billionaires, many of whom are profiting from the lucrative charter-voucher school sector, who also just happen to have funded the political campaigns of several of the LAUSD Trustees, then your petitions carry no threat of bias, and all 5,300 of them are accepted without question as to their veracity. The Chomsky quote above applies even more here.

Fact is the well heeled CEO of the CNCA Corporation is a good friend of both the current LAUSD President and former Vice President. Cronyism was the sole determining factor on the corporate charter plundering CRES #14.

Ms. O'Malley and all the other members of Echo Park Moms 4 Education are the furthest thing from the unconscionable names that LAUSD's Nury Martinez hurled at them. However, Ms. O'Malley had the temerity to question the inequitable process in which our neighborhood's public school was handed over to a private corporation. She refused to let the voice of social justice be silenced. She was intrepid enough to speak truth to the corporate power that grips our school board. For her efforts she was slandered in the most vile way.


[1] Coalition for School Reform is a nefarious group funded by vile arch-reactionary Philip Anschutz and other right wing school privatization profiteers like Reed Hastings, Jerry Perenchio, and Eli Broad. These plutocrats spent over a quarter million dollars on the failed Luis Sanchez campaign.

Poverty pimp Yolie Flores was also a darling of the Coalition for School Reform, but went on to work full time for her previous part time employer, the privatization pushing Gates Foundation.

[2] Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Second Edition. New York: Seven Stories Press., 1991. p. 18

[3] Ms. Henriquez has been fooled of course, as while CNCA Corporation boasts of a 97 percent graduation rate, they make no mention of their mind boggling 94 percent remediation rates. How schools that are sending students to college with single digit proficiency in English and math are considered "great" is testament to the powerful propaganda machine the the charter industry wields.

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