Crenshaw alum: Teacher suspension shed light on LAUSD teacher jail
At Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles, the 2014-2015 school year almost began without one of the campus’s most beloved teachers. The Los Angeles Unified School District announced in August that music instructor Iris Stevenson had been restored to her post. However, questions about her several-month-long absence remain. The case has shed light on “teacher jail,” the unofficial nickname for a sort of institutional purgatory for district teachers, which until recently meted out a virtually secret form of punishment.
The LAUSD removed Stevenson from her classroom in December 2013, shortly after she returned from a performing trip with the Crenshaw Elite Choir to Washington, D.C. and Paris. Of the 20 participants, only three were enrolled Crenshaw students. The rest of the group consisted of alumni, chaperones and musicians from around Los Angeles. Upon their return, district authorities reassigned Stevenson, and did not explain why to students and families. She had worked at Crenshaw since 1985.
“Her case, which is a confidential, personnel matter, remains under investigation,” the district said in a statement last month.
Alumni, faculty and community figures decried Stevenson’s ouster, overwhelming the principal’s office and the district with phone calls to vouch for her good character and to demand justice. As a former student of Stevenson’s, I supported their efforts.
“We have to let the school and the district know that we love Ms. Stevenson and what [LAUSD is] doing is not right,” said Vanity Brown, a Crenshaw alumna who spearheaded the protests against LAUSD’s action this spring.
Brown created a Facebook group called “Team Iris Stevenson” to spread information about the case to others who opposed Stevenson’s suspension. Brown also made suggestions of what to say when speaking with LAUSD officials or the Crenshaw principal. With the Facebook group, Brown mobilized generations of Crenshaw alumni who wanted to share memories of Stevenson.
“She opened a lot of doors for me when it came to going places,” said Brittney Hall, a recent graduate from Crenshaw.
Many students, parents and alums believe Stevenson was penalized for taking students on the trip without submitting the proper paperwork. Her students and advocates can’t understand why such a minor infraction would call for such a serious punishment. “She did not do anything wrong,” said Shelieha White, a senior at Crenshaw High and one of the three students who participated in the trip. White said she thought bigger motives may have been at play, explaining her hunch that LAUSD is “trying to close down our school.” “They don’t like Crenshaw,” she said. Supporters of Stevenson and other suspended teachers believe LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy supports a new pedagogical approach that focuses more on standardized tests than on enforcing critical thinking and creativity – and that this emphasis might explain the crackdown on Stevenson. “All teachers must administer these tests, and then they are judged on the performance of each student, and if their students don’t perform as required, the students are labeled failing and the teachers are labeled failing,” said JoAnn Wypijewski, who wrote “Where Shame is Policy: Inside LA’s ‘Teacher Jail” that appeared in the May 19 issue of The Nation. “Teachers are under fire tremendously,” she added. “What is exciting, though, - See more at: http://intersectionssouthla.org/story/crenshaw-alum-teacher-suspension-shed-light-on-lausd-teacher-jail/#sthash.tExcLSlX.dpuf