FIRST PERSON --On February 12, 2018 at 9 a.m. in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) before Judge Eileen M. Cohn, at 320 West Fourth St, Suite 630, Los Angeles, CA 90013, the California Attorney General, on behalf of California Teacher Credentialing (CTC), will attempt to culminate LAUSD's more than 10-year war on me using fabricated charges and by moving to definitively take away my teaching credential claiming I am a racist. What follows will be my Opening Statement.
OPENING STATEMENT of Leonard Isenberg
Under the law, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is not for the defendant to prove themselves innocent, but rather for the entity bringing charges to prove guilt, while giving the defendant due process of law as guaranteed by both state and federal constitutions. So far, this legally mandated due process has been completely lacking in actions taken against me by LAUSD and now California Teacher Credentialing (CTC).
This compromised due process should have been over years ago, like when my then Vice Principal Rene Martinez admitted under oath that he violated Penal Code 135 by destroying positive exculpatory student letter evidence in my favor in the earlier OAH proceeding: "A person who, knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, digital image, video recording owned by another, or other matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon a trial, inquiry, or investigation, authorized by law, willfully destroys, erases, or conceals the same, with the intent to prevent it or its content from being produced, is guilty of a misdemeanor."
In my case, I was fired by the LAUSD Board without their ever being given a chance to hear me defend myself with an impartial hearing. Instead, there was a presumption of my guilt from the beginning that never gave me the opportunity to defend myself in a legally mandated Skelly Hearing before a neutral arbiter nor did it ever consider the mountain of evidence that proved I had been targeted for being a whistleblower -- something neither mentioned nor considered in any of the District's charges against me. This has been attested to in public by Board member Richard Vladovic who said he “regrets the LAUSD Board always votes on teacher dismissal without ever hearing the teacher's side."
"Justice delayed is justice denied" is a legal maxim meaning that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all.
It has been more than seven years since LAUSD put me on unpaid administrative leave pending dismissal -- a period in which I have renewed my credential twice without any timely objection by CTC or anyone else. And yet now, I face belated action by CTC to lift my credential based on fabricated and unverified charges of now retired Principal Janet Seary and Vice Principal Rene Martinez – charges that would have easily been discerned as false by anyone who bothered to look at the time frame in which undisputed events have taken place that show I was targeted for being a whistleblower.
While the AG's office in this action is the attorney for CTC acting on behalf of LAUSD's move to belatedly remove my credential, they are also the chief legal authority in the state charged with affirmatively seeking to uncover what is clear and convincing evidence of fraud and other criminal behavior by LAUSD and CTC now trying to remove my credential after already effectively punishing and blacklisting me from the teaching profession for the last seven years, since I was fired based on clearly fabricated charges. Is this an undisclosed conflict of interest on the part of the Attorney General's Office that effectively precludes me from getting a truly impartial hearing with an ultimate decision based on the facts or rather only the last rubber stamping of a fait accompli?
If, in fact, I truly represented a threat to students, if my credential was not immediately lifted, why are we -- over seven years after LAUSD put me on unpaid administrative leave pending definitive dismissal -- only now addressing this matter?
I have been allowed to renew my credential twice without CTC or the AG's offices taking any timely action to stop me or revoke my credential even though CTC had actual knowledge of my alleged "bad acts" from both myself and LAUSD going back to 2010. No laches or Statute of Limitations problem here?
It is also worth pointing out that there are thousands of high seniority teachers around the State and the country who are now in the same position as me. And yet neither the AG's office nor any other local, state or national law enforcement agency has seen fit to do anything to impede what can only be called a massive witch hunt being brought against these mostly high seniority, more expensive teachers for standing up to corruption or just because they work for a district that is able to save a great deal of money by getting rid of them and hiring Emergency Credentialed teachers at a fraction of the cost.
Former CTC attorney Kathleen Carroll made the same point and was also targeted and removed from her lawyer position at CTC for refusing to lift the credentials of teachers she deemed innocent of any wrongdoing. Ms. Carroll has recently won a $2.8 million lawsuit in a vindication of her earlier actions and in defense against her wrongful termination.
In June 2007, I applied for an out-of-classroom position that was given to Nestor Albert Vargas, who was an unqualified substitute teacher with an emergency credential that expired on July 1, 2007. Principal Seary nonetheless gave him the position over Mr. Perez and myself, the only two qualified candidates. My objection to this started Principal Seary's subsequent war against me that ultimately led to my dismissal and now seeks to finish the job by taking away my credential.
On May 28, 2014, my attorney Ron Lapekas wrote a letter to CTC's Ani Kindall challenging its jurisdiction for lack of verified charges. Without a requirement for verification of charges made under penalty of perjury, what is the downside for LAUSD's Janet Seary and Rene Martinez fabricating charges against me or any of the other thousands of teachers and other high seniority employees LAUSD has and continues to unjustly target and remove with fabricated charges? Has anybody bothered to ask?
As a whistleblower, I reported that my principal Janet Seary was:
- Fixing attendance to carry students as present who were not in class and in the process changing the attendance records of the official school time keeper Tammy Williams. This defrauds both the State and federal government in terms of the amount of money they pay LAUSD for Average Daily Attendance and other monies that rely on accurate attendance.
- Although students did little or no work in these Continuation School classes predominantly occupied by low-functioning students who had for the most part been thrown out of every prior school they attended, Principal Seary and her vice principals Rene Martinez and Janine Antoine intimidated and threatened teachers who would not give undeserved passing grades to these students. Antoine even alleged in writing that teachers did not have the right to fail a student under any circumstances, even though this was contradicted by the very authority she cited in her email to me.
- The independently verifiable 70% of students arriving at community colleges today without the ability to pass an initial placement examination at a level supposedly subsumed under a high school diploma (that seems now to not be worth the paper it is written on) supports my contention of grade fixing by Principal Seary and many others like her. Furthermore, the grossly inadequate academic level of students going into the California State College system who are not at grade-level is presently 30% of those applying. This also substantiates my allegation of fraud by administrators at LAUSD and elsewhere that coerce teachers into giving passing grades that in no way represent actual work done or students' actual academic level.
- Principal Seary tried to displace me from my teaching position to get rid of me, even though there were 14 other teachers at my school with significantly less seniority. She even gave preference over me to substitutes with no seniority, who were only working on a 30-day Emergency Credential, who should have been the first displaced, but never were.
- This is further illustrated by Principal Seary's blocking my appointment to an out-of-classroom administrative coordinator position, which she first gave to Mr. Nestor Albert Vargas an unqualified Emergency Credentialed substitute and then to a person who was initially on the out-of-classroom administrative selection committee. Camere Solis who sat on the same selection committee stated at my Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) action that, "principals do what they want irrespective of the aforementioned obligations of LAUSD regulations or collective bargaining agreement to choose an out-of-classroom coordinator only from qualified applicants."
In a September 19, 2007 email, Terri Fesperman of CTC was asked to give the name of their investigator who had supposedly determined that Vargas was qualified for the out of classroom position. Neither she nor anybody else ever did. I filled a PERB action against LAUSD 8/7/2008 against the illegal acts and omissions of Principal Seary, David Vidaurrazaga, Dominic Sistone, and the nonfeasance of their LAUSD superiors. Is this not even worth the consideration of this hearing as to whether the present action to belatedly lift my credential is just more retaliation?
- Renting my classroom site in a commercial building amid a recession on Wilshire Blvd for $3700 a month for a 3-room space with no windows and which the previous lessee paid only $1400, should have put somebody on at least inquiry notice as to what was going on. I reported this to then Assistant Mayor Ramon Cortines (and the mayor's attorney Tom Saenz), who was of the LA Mayor office at the time, who subsequently became LAUSD Superintendent. Although I was assured by his assistant who came out to the Wilshire classroom site that something would be done, I never heard from these people or anybody else in authority and was subsequently targeted for removal based on charges fabricated by Principal Seary that I was a racist. Were these charges a result of my being a whistleblower?
- It is also worth mentioning that on July 6, 2007 Principal Seary gave me the best letter of recommendation I have ever received approximately a year or so before she started to move for my dismissal based on fabricated charges despite the praise she gave me in the letter of recommendation. In retrospect, I think this was just an attempt to just get rid of me.
- On 1November 23, 2009, I filed a whistleblower complaint with Maria Kress of the LAUSD Office of Inspector General who sat on my complaint without doing anything. When it was finally investigated months later, Mr. Johnson of the LAUSD Inspector General's Office gave the complaint to Principal Janet Seary and her immediate superior Jan Davis to investigate, even though they were themselves the subject of my whistleblower complaint. Since when is it okay for the subjects of a whistleblower complaint to be the only investigators of their own alleged malfeasance?
- It is also worth mentioning that I filed formal complaints with L.A. County, DFEH, State of CA Industrial Relations and other agencies that only issued a right to sue. No further action was taken by any of these organizations, because as I later found out, they do not have the budget to do so, even though they are constantly getting a huge number of complaints exactly like mine.
It is also worth mentioning that when my Principal Janet Seary gave me a supposed due process hearing in which she found against me and imposed a 30-day suspension, that her immediate superior Jan Davis had already signed off on the hearing and its findings close to two months before the hearing ever took place. This is due process?
Although the California Attorney General's Office is the attorney of record for state agencies like CTC in this action, one would also think that as chief legal authority in the State of California they would also be, at the very least, on inquiry notice as to the egregious, obvious, and often criminally felonious behavior of both CTC and LAUSD. This includes targeting any teacher or other employee who dares to object to the dishonest and often criminal behavior that these and other organizations continue to engage in.
The fact that CTC past Chief Legal Counsel Kathleen Carroll has recently won a $2.8 million lawsuit after having been targeted for objecting to some of the same behavior I am citing here should be relevant, but somehow goes unaddressed by the AG's Office or any other legal state or federal entity charged with so investigating.
A purposefully protracted administrative legal process designed to punish and demoralize teachers and others so targeted, is even more reprehensible when one realizes that CTC, LAUSD, and other entities have literally made no attempt to hide their openly illegal and harassing behavior.
It is not a coincidence that a super majority of all teachers who have been targeted for removal from their careers in education are over 40 years old and at the top of the salary scale. It is a statistical impossibility to imagine that those with greatest tenure and experience are somehow the most incompetent.
The fact that LAUSD and districts like it around the state and the country save approximately $60,000 in combined salary and benefits in just the first year that they get rid of a high seniority teacher. Yet this seems never to be addressed as even a possible motive for LAUSD's illegal behavior – even though they make no attempt to hide it -- but which never seems to be delved into by entities like the Attorney General's office or local district attorneys charged with investigating such alleged corruption and other illegal behaviors.
One would think that the AG's office should at least be on inquiry notice as to why then Assistant Principal Rene Martinez is the only witness in this new procedure being called to testify, when Principal Seary was the moving force behind my dismissal from LAUSD. Don't I have a right to cross examine people like Martinez as to why he destroyed exculpatory evidence?
Although Principal Seary once told me she could not afford to retire because she had started teaching too late, several years ago she did retire. Could this have anything to do with her being forced into retirement by LAUSD for other questionable actions like the ones I cited in my whistleblower complaint dealing with the rental of my classroom site on Wilshire Blvd at such an inflated price? What would it take for the AG's office to investigate this or is there an undisclosed conflict of interest here precluding the CTC counsel and chief law enforcement officer them from doing their primary duty job as chief California law enforcement entity?
When I was about 10 years old my family moved from the predominantly Jewish Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood in Los Angeles to Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, where I first experienced antisemitism. At that time, I talked to my dad about why people hated and discriminated against other people. I also asked him why the Jewish people we knew were, for the most part, so involved with and against such discrimination, which was at that time predominantly against African Americans and Latinos.
I have never forgotten what he said to me, answering, "If you do nothing when it is done to somebody else, you have nobody to blame, when the same thing is done to you." This has been the guiding principal of my life and why I got into teaching in the first place: to redress the racist public -- and still segregated -- education system that makes no good faith attempt to educate most African American and Latinos in school districts like LAUSD that are close to 90% African American and Latino. LAUSD and other districts remain de facto segregated 64 years after Brown vs. Board of Education ruled, “Separate but equal...is inherently unequal."
For refusing to back down and go along with this yet racist public education system, I have, ironically, been labeled a racist and have been fired by LAUSD and completely blacklisted with other districts. The objective value of my teaching credential to this 70-year old man is really very little and probably not financially worth the cost of fighting for in this hearing.
But I don't believe this racist public education system will survive for much longer. And it is important for the future to build a legal record as to when the sad reality of this still racist system was recognized -- and what was done about it – so that we can ultimately turn it around. Then finally, we might be able to make America great...for all Americans.
In passing, it might be worth mentioning that I have lived for years with Anthony Holland, who is African American and Puerto Rican and now with Fernando Morales, who is of Venezuelan origin.
In complete and utter derogation of my close to 30-year exemplary teaching career, the Assistant Attorneys General on behalf of CTC have made a case against me based exclusively on fabricated charges of me being a racist. These charges were made up by Central High School Tri-Cs Principal Janet Seary and her Assistant Principal Rene Martinez. And literally none of it is true.
What is self-evident about these charges and the way they have been handled is that there has been no independent investigation of them by any entity that is not a part of LAUSD or any other organization that could have tried to independently verify these charges. Rather, it was assumed without question that the allegations were true, even though an independent investigation would have easily negated that.
I started teaching for LAUSD in 1986 as a substitute teacher on an Emergency Credential. From the day I started, I worked almost every day, because I was willing to go to the most problematic schools like Dorsey High School, Locke High School, and inner-city schools. These schools always had a high absence rate of regular teachers that was precipitated by unaddressed student bad behavior; this also made these schools less than desirable for substitutes.
I will never forget my first day teaching at a middle school in the Crenshaw district. When I walked by a classroom, I saw the teacher showing the students the film RoboCop. The first thought that occurred to me was, what possible educational value could the showing of this movie have for students? As I subbed at more and more predominantly inner-city schools that were and are still populated with almost exclusively African American and Latino students, what I discovered was that this form of movie daycare where no attempt was made to educate these significantly behind grade-level students was and is the rule and not the exception.
It was clear that the reason that these inner-city teachers were taking so many sick days -- even beyond the ones they were allowed -- was because they were put in the untenable position of trying to teach students who were profoundly behind grade-level with almost no support from the District or the schools’ administration.
These students have been and continue to be socially promoted to higher and higher-grade levels without even basic mastery of prior grade-level course standards -- to the point where the very act of trying to educate them without these prerequisites only serves to humiliate them in front of their peers.
The predictable result was an acting out and misbehavior that literally made it impossible to teach even those students that wanted to learn.
At one point I was given an assignment at Mark Twain MS, where the principal Lessie Caballero refused to remove students from my class who openly said, "We're not going to do any work nor are we going to allow anybody else to." It is worth mentioning that I was told Principal Caballero had been a kindergarten teacher who miraculously moved up to become a high school principal, when she married an assistant LAUSD superintendent.
In trying to educate all students the way I had been educated in an LAUSD school in the late 1950s and 1960s, where critical thinking skills were emphasized, and the education process was a dialogue that included constantly checking in real time for comprehension, I was often confronted with comments like that of my African-American principal at Dorsey HS who said, "Mr. Isenberg, this is a black school." She seemed to have no expectation that my students could learn, so she did her two years at Dorsey before moving on in her career to the LAUSD Beaudry headquarters.
In discussing this with other subs, I remember a Japanese-American and Korean-American science and math teacher respectively saying that their Latino principals at different schools accused them both of "not being culturally sensitive" because they tried to educate their students using the same critical thinking methods by which they had been educated. Somehow people whose ancestors who had built an empire that lasted much longer than the Roman Empire could now not be educated, despite a bilingual advantage that made their mastery of all languages at least theoretically easier.
In getting a Preliminary Teaching Credential at Cal State LA, I also noticed that at least 50% of the required classes dealt with behavior and had little concern for the pedagogy that one would think was needed for mastering, addressing, and succeeding with the education of predominantly minority students who were, for the most part, behind grade-level through no fault of their own.
Irrespective of their easily verifiable individual subjective academic levels, virtually all these students had been and continue to be socially promoted with their age group, despite being profoundly behind grade-level. And, of course, this is still the verifiable academic reality of LAUSD today.
When I finally took a full-time teaching position at predominantly White Palisades Charter High School, I saw a different reality in how at least the White students and at grade-level Black and Latino students were educated. But when it came to the behind grade-level minority students who, after getting up early in the morning in the inner city to arrive at Pali on time, were promptly re-segregated in low-functioning classes no better than the ones they had left in their inner-city neighborhoods of origin.
What seemed clear was that their Average Daily Attendance money was being used to subsidize White education on the Westside of LA in one of the few White majority schools like Palisades Charter HS.
So, when Palisades community member David Eagle asked me to come with him as a teacher and vice principal to his newly formed New West Charter MS, I didn't hesitate a moment to join a school that accepted 55% African American students in its first class.
But while David Eagle and Principal Don Gill were initially willing to take on minority students, they were neither capable nor willing to deal with the problems of longstanding academic neglect these students brought with them. When one of those students was "opportunity transferred" out of my class and back to the school of origin without telling me or giving me a chance to address certain deficits in a productive manner, I left New West.
In preparing for this hearing, I recalled my initial attitude in dealing with Principal Seary and VP Rene Martinez. I thought their corrupt acts would never stand and that all I would have to do is move up the administrative chain of command at LAUSD until I found honest people who would do the right thing. As of this writing, I have yet to find folks willing to put their careers on the line by going against the corrupt behavior that dominates LAUSD and other organizations around the state and federal governments.
In addition, the co-option of both commercial and public media by corporations and corporate-controlled foundations rapidly moving to privatize public education with charter schools, has made it impossible for the public to know what is going on in places like LAUSD, unless they have their own children there.
Even though LAUSD has made no attempt to hide what they’ve been doing for the last 40 years, nobody in the media has been looking. So, it is understandable if the general (White) public doesn't have a clue that this is going on.
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com.)