A letter to the California State Legislature
January 2003
(Followed by selected comments from Project NoSpank's readers)

[Sent snailmail to each California state senator and assemblyperson.]

January 8, 2003

Dear Legislator:

You are receiving this correspondence because we assume that concern about the quality of public education must be among the top priorities of every elected member of government. It is no less important than, say, the safety of the food and water supply or of national security. It could easily be argued that when education goes wrong in a democratic society, little else goes right. Do not make the mistake of dismissing the case we will describe below as an anomaly. It is emblematic of a widespread disorder. Probably every school district has at least one classroom similar to this one. Multiply that by the number of years in a teacher's career, and that by the number of children negatively effected each year, and the result must alarm every thinking citizen.

On November 20, 2002, a gathering of people representing approximately a dozen families residing in Vacaville, California convened in the home of one of the group's members. Those present were mothers, fathers and one grandparent. I was invited as a representative of Parents and Teachers against Violence in Education to listen to their concerns and advise if possible.

What these families have in common is that they all have a child in the same 2nd grade class in a Vacaville public school, and that they believe that their children are exposed to a dangerous level of chronic mistreatment and mismanagement by a teacher who is apparently unqualified for the job. The problem is compounded by the administration's refusal to promptly assess the situation and to rectify matters so that the children are safe. Moreover, some of the parents say that their complaints have been brushed aside, that they have been stonewalled and even threatened. At a meeting with the Superintendent, on November 22, a group of parents were told that there is "no evidence" that anything is wrong in the class. They were told that a qualified observer who visited while class was in session saw nothing wrong. In an apparent attempt to intimidate them, the parents were warned that if anyone refused to send their child to school, "someone might be knocking at their door."

Following are some of the experiences of the families as they described them at the November 20th meeting.

  1. On the first day of school, the teacher, Ms. B, instructed her pupils to take home all the school supplies their parents had purchased for them. She told them that they would not be permitted to bring anything to class but a #2 pencil.

  2. Ms. B instructs her pupils how they are to sit while in class. Both feet are to be flat on the floor and directed forward. Hands are to be in their laps at all times except while writing. They are to face forward at all times. No shifting, wriggling or turning are allowed. Violations of this rule result in loss of recess.

  3. Seating is scrambled on a daily basis so pupils never know which desks they will occupy until the beginning of class.

  4. Several desks are always turned facing a side wall. Pupils who are seated in those desks are expected to face forward in the desk. If they want to see the blackboard, they are expected to turn their heads at the neck. If they shift in their seats to more easily see the blackboard, they are punished by loss of recess.

  5. Ms. B has assigned two desks to non-existent students whom she calls George and Georgette. Ms. B. has told her class that George and Georgette have accompanied her from her previous school. Some students refer to them as her "ghost children." Ms. B told her pupils that they don't have to tell their parents about this.

  6. Some parents report that their children face a daily challenge with regard to bathroom usage. If a pupil has to use the bathroom at other than the designated times, that pupil is punished by loss of recess. Ms. B keeps an account of bathroom-use violations listed on the blackboard, and almost every day there are children being kept in their seats during recess as punishment for this reason.

  7. A father reports that, after obtaining a visitor's pass, Ms. B told him that he could not stay. In front of his son and the whole class, she loudly ordered him to leave immediately.

  8. Parents report that Ms. B has told children that while they are in her class, she is their parent. When a parent complained about this to the District, she was told by the Interim Superintendent that this is perfectly normal, that teachers are taught that as part of their training.

  9. A mother arrived at the end of the school day to tell Ms. B that her son had been home ill, and to ask if she could pick up his homework folder. Ms. B said, "you have to make an appointment." The mother said, "I just wanted to get his homework folder." Ms. B refused to give it to her and insisted she make an appointment.

  10. Some parents report that their children bring home homework assignments which they can't understand and for which they apparently have been totally unprepared. In order to complete these assignments, the parents sometimes must work with their children for much of the evening.

  11. Offers by several parents, including a grandmother who is a retired schoolteacher, to volunteer in Ms. B's class have been declined for no apparent reason.

  12. On one occasion Ms. B forgot to release her pupils for recess. When one boy reminded her that it was recess time, she said, "Oh, okay, everybody can go but you."

  13. On one occasion, a parent was called at 2:30 in the afternoon to pick up her daughter because she was ill and running a fever. When the girl told her mother she had been sick all day, the mother asked her why she hadn't said anything earlier. She explained that she tried, but Ms. B became very annoyed and said, "Quit bothering me. Is this an emergency?" The girl felt intimidated and said no. The mother says that during the course of the day her daughter had cramps and needed to use the bathroom at other than the designated times, and was punished for this in the usual way. (See item #6.)

  14. The parents say two teachers at the school, in private conversations with them, have confirmed that there is something seriously wrong in Ms. B's class. Those teachers have requested anonymity.

  15. A parent reports that when she complained about the treatment of her child in Ms. B's class to the Sheriff's Deptartment, she was told it is a police matter. She went to the police who told her it was a matter for Child Protective Services. She then went to Child Protective Services who told her it was a police matter.

  16. An undated letter, postmarked January 2, from the Assistant Superintendent to several parents of children in Ms B's class said, in part, "...All issues that you brought to my attention have been investigated. I find no evidence that would warrant further action regarding Ms. [B] than that taken thus far by the District... If you have any further concerns regarding your child and Ms. [B], please address the issues directly to Ms. [B] and/or the Principal, Mrs. [M]..."

  17. One parent tells of failed attempts to reach the Principal by telephone to discuss problems in Ms. B's class. The school secretary takes the messages, but the calls are never returned.

  18. The families concur that the general atmosphere of Ms. B's class is chaotic and unpredictable. She appears to dislike children, and the children know it. Some families say that their children dread going to school each morning. Several families report that since their children have been in the care of Ms. B, they have developed sleep disorders including night terrors and nightmares. One parent tells that her 7-year-old daughter experiences a recurring dream in which Ms. B appears and says, "you need a spanking." This child's family does not use corporal punishment and she never hears any reference to it at home. The parents of a boy tell that he is apt to awaken at night and is afraid to stay alone in his room. On one occasion, when he came to his parents' bed, he insisted that he not be too near the edge because he was afraid that Ms B would pop up from under the bed and scare him. Another parent reports that her child's wish list to Santa included a request for a new teacher.

With regard to above item #6, this practice is in violation of Education Code 49000 - 49001 because it is "...the willful infliction of, or willfully causing the infliction of, physical pain on a pupil...." This law has been in force in California since January 1, 1987. Apparently neither the teacher nor the school administration is aware of that
See Jordan Riak's letter to California Assembly Member Lois Wolk, March 31. 2003
fact. Furthermore, interfering with children's use of the bathroom has serious physical and psychological risks about which neither the teacher nor the school administration seems to be aware. For further information on this topic, see "Health Risks to Children Associated With Forced Retention of Bodily Waste -- A statement by health care professionals." A copy is enclosed with this letter. It can also be read online at www.nospank.net/frbw.htm.

Any recipient of this letter who wishes to speak directly with the families involved is invited to call me at 925-831-1661. I will inform them of your interest. A copy of this letter has been sent to Solano County Child Protective Services.


Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
P.O. Box 1033
Alamo, CA 94507-7033

Selected readers' responses

January 24, 2003

Regarding the Vacaville letter, these parents are running into a Catch 22 of our educational system. It is very hard for a school district to discharge, or even severely discipline a tenured teacher. While this seems harsh for parents, the system is designed to protect teachers against sham discipline for political or religious views, a historical problem in education. Where a teacher's activities violate the educational code, the parents should have an attorney contact the school system. Because an attorney approaches it professionally, not emotionally, a principal or superintendent may give the issue more consideration. An attorney should also be familiar with the state law -- education code and governmental immunity statute -- applicable to the issue.

School districts themselves are usually protected by government immunity. I currently have this issue, strictly as to corporal punishment, before the Michigan Court of Appeals. If the teacher is committing an "intentional tort" -- hitting children, for example -- that is not protected by immunity, he or she may be sued individually. Abuse of constitutional proportions may also subject the teacher to a lawsuit under 42 USC 1983, an 1871 civil rights law that provides for action against "state actors" violating a person's constitutional rights. If there is evidence that the abuse is part of a school policy -- not likely because most districts really are well run by well meaning but overworked individuals -- the district is not immune as to constitutional violations.

The people involved are welcome to call, write, or email me regarding the matter. However, I am not licensed in California and speaking with me would not substitute for consultation with an attorney practicing in that state.

Jeffrey Z. Dworin
43494 Woodward Ave #205
Bloomfield Hills MI 48302
248-322-9900 fax 248-322-2725

January 24, 2003

I do not want to be quoted publicly but if this woman isn't psychotic, I surely missed something in training. [Anon.]

January 24, 2003

The Vacaville case is notable because it indicates how emotional/psychological abuse of children is considered the norm in many schools. I suspect that it is far more rampant, and ultimately more damaging in terms of the number of children affected, than physical abuse. It says a great deal about the entire school system in many jurisdictions -- a system in which the educators have a monopoly on public education, and abuse their monopoly powers. Their attitude is that your child has to go to school, so they can do anything they want to your child, without being accountable to anyone.

My son had a similar experience with an emotionally abusive teacher, and became terrified of going to school, to the point of being suicidal. I, too, was stonewalled by an unaccountable educational bureacracy.

I took the following steps:

1. I took my child to a child psychologist who determined that my child had been traumatized by his teacher, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the teacher's behavior. 2. I talked to a lawyer about a basis for a lawsuit for damages, including emotional pain and suffering; denial of my childs right to a satisfactory (i.e. non-abusive) education; potential loss of future income for my son as a result of the psychological damage inflicted on him by his educators; costs for ongoing therapy to recover from the trauma; costs of my time off work, etc.

3. I withdrew my child from school, and began homeschooling. In my opinion, I would have been guilty of severe negligence as a parent if I had continued to send my child into what I believed to be a severely abusive situation. The educational authorities attempted to intimidate me, and insisted on meeting with me regularly to review my homeshooling curriculum, and my child's progress, or else there would be legal action. I told them that I would be happy to go to court, as I had an expert psychologist who would testify as to the trauma inflicted on my child, and that I had retained a lawyer who believed that I had a strong case to sue for damages.

4. The results: The educational authorities now leave us alone. The school Principal resigned. The school Trustee (elected representative for our ward) didn't run in the next election. It has taken several years, but my son is recovering well. At this point, we can look back on the experience as something that has made him (and me) stronger, and better prepared for other bullies we will inevitably meet in life. I don't think that our educational system can be easily changed. The teachers have too much of a vested interest in remaining unaccountable to the parents who are expected to entrust their children to the teachers' care. All we can do as parents is to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our children.

Glenn P.

January 23, 2003

These families need to make as much noise as possible. Call an attorney, call the local dept of children services, the department of disability services, the local childrens actions groups, the local legislators, the school board, the superintendent of schools, the peditricians association, the governor's office, anyone and everyone who has anything to do with children's issues, encourage others to write letters on their behalf. Each telephone call needs to be direct, with the statement of "I am comitted to putting a stop to this behavior towards my child and I am committed to calling whomever I need to, taking whatever legal action I need to to end this behavior. I will not quit until this matter has been resolved." (Then mention the next telephone call which will be placed when this one ends.)

By putting as many responsible I statements and placing this issue out there in a solution oriented manner, the parents will not increase the defensiveness of the administrators or incur their need to protect their employees. What this style of communicatin does is show responsible parents who are not going to go away until the powers that be resolve the issue.

Ask others to write letters as well. Tell officials you will contact the Department of Human Services National Office, the National Child Abuse Prevention Office, etc......


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