Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Whistleblower's Story is Finally Told

 It's been thirteen years since my lawsuit against Oregon Youth Authority and the Education Service District I worked for for six years has been resolved. After my case was settled, I was physically, emotionally and financially bankrupt. I received a pittance of what my damages were but I decided not to appeal the decision, take what money they gave me and move forward with my life to rebuild and heal both physically and emotionally as well as financially. That has been a long journey. I have had flashbacks due to PTSD since the time of the lawsuit. My last serious one was when I took my case involving a traffic ticket that I believed was a set up to court in 2013. I had a few minor ones when I returned to Louisville, KY my home town after losing my home on the Oregon Coast to slowly re enter the world of volunteer work and leadership positions within the community and be a homeowner once again. During the five years I was there, I rebuilt my finances, continued to write and became able to finally qualifying for another home. In addition, I became a strong community leader and advocate recognized for my social consciousness and leadership abilities, especially as a member of the Portland Neighborhood Association's Board of Directors and establishing the Friends of the Library group for the Portland Library. I worked with the Education Committee to improve educational opportunities for youth in public schools. In addition, I worked with the League of Women Voters to try and bring back civics into the school curriculum and stop the Charter School Movement in Kentucky that was fueled by religious based organizations that wanted to receive public money for their religious based schools.  As a retired history teacher, I continued my writing and advocating for teaching American history to reflect the true story of our history not just White Man's political history. The reason I wrote The Peacemaker during my retirement in Oregon was to bring this story to the attention of our country. I took things slowly and did not take on anything I didn't think I was ready for, but I soon reclaimed my reputation and confidence. After three years, it was time to look for the right home that fit with my writing and vision of a sustainable economy. All this time, I avoided partisan politics and continued my independent status. 

I tried for two years to find the financing in Portland to purchase a home where I could do urban homesteading and work with the organizations that were bringing fresh food into the depressed neighborhood as well as planting trees and pollinating flowers to bring life back to the asphalt urban jungle. I volunteered in clean up projects and planting community gardens. I wanted to stay there, but the financing never became available. That is why I now live in Charlotte, NC working with my daughter on a property I have purchased to develop and restore and reclaim for organic gardening and a wildlife habitat and save the beautiful trees on the property from developers. I have stayed out of the politics of a partisan, divided country and used my writing to try and bring awareness to the problems inherent in this country since a republic that disenfranchised over half of its people was established in 1789, hoping that my writing and work I was doing on my property would be enough. I have been an independent voter since the election of 1988 separating myself from the partisan party politics of the country, but things have been happening since 2001, the ending date of my book The Peacemaker that I can no longer ignore.

 I have started to take a strong stand on my social media outlets and, although I will not vote for either of the major political candidates, I am taking a strong stand on what I see as reforms that need to be made in this country that are not being addressed by either political party or their leaders who are actually controlled by the corporate lobbyists who fund their election campaigns. I also think it doesn't matter which white, land owning man is elected President because our whole system at every level is broken, corrupt and in the hands of special interest groups. President Trump says he represents the people, but in fact, he represents the military, fossil fueled industrial complex and Wall St. billionaires while convincing one small group of people, his base, that he supports "the people" in their desire to return control of the country back to the common man. What this group wants, however, is a return to the time when Washington represented their White, Anglo-Saxon Christian views that has made this country "the great defender of freedom" instead of what is has been since its inception, an imperialistic empire building country like that of the English Empire. In doing this, President Trump has equated patriotism with jingoism, my country right or wrong, and labels any protests that happen as being unpatriotic and defying all of those symbols that represent our country and its imperialistic empire building. Please know that I abhor violence and am sad that property and business are being destroyed in the name of protest. This is not the least bit helpful. This is why I have decided to vote for Mark Charles for President and why I now feel the need to talk about my whistle blowing and what I have learned about its importance that goes far beyond what I did as a teacher to expose corrupt educational practices in a juvenile detention facility where I worked as head teacher and program developer for six years. 

One of the platforms of Mark Charles's candidacy is a rewrite of Amendment 13, that he says did not end slavery but only turned it over to the prisons. The following is the text for Amendment 13;

13 amendment of the Constitution

  • Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment ( Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. 

When I taught American history, even working hard to give a true picture of American history, I taught the 13th, 14, and 15th Amendments as one block of votes, 13 abolished slavery, 14th Amendment gave them citizenship and the 15th Amendment gave African-American males the right to vote. I never really delved into the importance of the 13th and 14th Amendments beyond that. The only one I emphasized was the 15th because it gave African-American males the right to vote before females, by making them citizens. Knowing how the 14th Amendment has been used throughout its passage, most recently in the Roe vs. Wade case I now know that although the 13th Amendment abolished slavery the 14th Amendment did something for females that has been of extreme importance in bringing about civil rights for females in this country. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.” The added phrase at the end of that Amendment has been very useful to ethnic groups that may not have been slaves or women who were invisible, but no less recognized as citizens, in this country in 1868. Mark Charles has now brought something very important to the attention of the country. The extra verbiage in the 13th Amendment did not abolish slavery, it simply put slavery under control of the criminal justice system. 

The prison system (many of them for profit as The Shawshank Redemption points our quite well) uses the criminals in their care for all kinds of slave labor for which they receive money. In looking at the population of these prisons, the population of people of color far exceeds the population of the white community or other ethnic groups. As I read the 13th Amendment I began to think that criminal justice reform needs to begin with getting rid of that part of the amendment. That's not nearly so bad as Hitler's death camps, but if our prisons are to be reformed we need to take the profit out of it and put the money into rehabilitation programs instead. This is now where my whistle blowing experience comes in. 

When I was hired at my last position where I worked in a juvenile detention facility, I was hired because my resume made me a perfect candidate for the place. I had certification in language arts (either math or language arts certification was a requirement) a master's in social work with a specialty in juvenile justice, and experience in working with students with disabilities through an inclusion program that made me familiar with all the laws surrounding teaching students with disabilities and modifications needed based on their Individual Educational Plans. Since finding someone who actually lived in the small town where the camp was located was difficult the Special Ed Teacher would come only on certain days and check in with me about how the plans were being implemented. In addition, I had created an impressive independent living program for students in my consumer economics class at Chemawa Indian School outside of Salem, Oregon where I was living at the time.  All these things made me the right candidate to set up the academic part of the program and work with the other full time teacher who was also certified but in health. He could help me with math and science but his expertise was in the vocational part of the program. I went to work setting up teaching programs that would help students integrate their academics with experience in the vocational part as well as start setting up career programs for graduating students. 

Things went smoothly for a while but there were red flags from the start. one of them involved the showing of movies in the classroom. I had been unaware when I started the job that the reason for the vacancy was the resignation of the special education teacher who worked with my partner after she had filed a sexual harassment suit against him for showing The Klan of the Cave Bear. I didn't know anything about this movie but as I became familiar with the camp and its population (many of the long term residents were there for sex offenses) I understood why this movie should never have been shown at all let alone being offensive to the female employee. As I struggled with trying to find out what the policy was regarding movies, I realized there was none and that movies of this type were not only shown in the classroom, they were used by the GLC's (general life coordinators) during free time. I asked the head of the camp about this and he told me that what I came up with would be the policy for the whole camp. That was my first problem. I became the scapegoat for taking away the movies from the inmates because I was rigid and not able to understand the needs of hormonal teenagers. These were not hormonal teenagers, they were sex offenders, rapists and murderers who not only didn't need to see movies like this in school, they should not have been subject to them at all, but I was put in the position of being one who changed it all for them. In addition, as I started implementing a lot of programs, I noticed my teaching partner's nervousness as though I had something against him or would charge him again. That thought was not on my mind at the time. 

 The second one which was the one that brought everything to a head was the releasing of students during the school day to work with a supervisor basically to do labor projects that involved clearing brush, cutting down trees, digging trenches, etc. for community landowners who needed cheap labor for these projects. The students' were paid five dollars an hour for this work and it went into an account that was primarily to be a savings account for when they were released but they were allowed to use a portion of that sometimes to get pizza or even go into the city to eat at a fast food restaurant. If they worked during the school day, they received elective credits to go toward their diploma. Of course most of the work took place during the school day and many of the students were also on the GED program so there was no problem with getting them excused since they were just studying for the GED tests anyway so credits were not that important so going to work during the school day was not a problem until. . . Another thing changed after I came to work there. 

In 1996 Oregon passed Measure 11. This was a measure that changed the whole system of juvenile justice. Since young people were getting more and more involved in felonies and violent behaviors, Measure 11 required a 5 year 10 month prison sentence for anyone over the age of 15 accused of a crime that was associated with violence;  i.e. murder, assault, armed robbery and rape. That changed the face of Oregon Youth Authority. No longer were juveniles sentenced for 2 years or less, they were spending their whole high school life and beyond in prison. GED programs and credit recovery were no longer viable so the different facilities where students were locked up started high schools where students actually graduated. Attaining a diploma even if the student could return to high school was now the focus. At the same time the GED tests were becoming harder and harder to pass and the thought was let's get these kids a diploma because they had been the trouble makers in school and most schools did not want them back. That is where I came in. My expertise and knowledge of credits, standards and performance tests was invaluable as well as my knowledge of the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) program. When the program changed, releasing students for work changed as well and once again, I became the heavy. 

I talked with the Camp Coordinator and tried to explain all this to him and for a while, things worked well. We established a work board that I coordinated and set the schedule for when a student could be released for work or not. About one-third of the students at the 26 bed facility were on IEP's which meant that if going to work violated a modification they needed they could not go. That led to a problem because I had worked with the Special Education teacher to set up a tutoring program in coordination with local volunteers who worked with them two days a week. This was a requirement. In addition, I worked with tutors who came in to tutor for the GED program also, so those were days when the students could not work. As demands for students to go out on work crews increased I once again became the heavy for adhering to the school demands over work demands. The money coming in for the work program was important to the people who ran Oregon Youth Authority and the demands for me to sacrifice the education for work release increased more and more and my teaching partner certainly was not on my side. Over and over, he was sent to me to try and persuade me to release the students. When I refused he was astounded. "Why do you want to keep these students here and make things hard," he asked? I simply told him I was doing my job as an educator. Having been only a teacher of electives, I don't think he really understood although I kept trying to explain, but the situation was getting more and more unpleasant and I was having difficulty controlling the students in class when they couldn't go to work. Again, no one took my side. They went along with the label of me being a rigid teacher who could only enforce rules and I have to say the men at the camp agreed with them. 

Things became especially difficult when my husband died suddenly. My teaching partner kept going to the principal with complaints that I was working too hard and a lot of my problems stemmed from coming back to work too soon and working during the summer. It was too much for me. That could not have been further from the truth. My job has always been a source of comfort in times of stress, but things were becoming difficult. Things went from bad to worse when my teaching partner decided to retire and his job became available. The camp did need a vocational teacher to run the shop but the numbers of students did not really support two fully certified teachers. One of the ways that the numbers had been inflated was to count students released for work as being in school because when the credits were assigned at the end of the day, these students were listed on the count because they were receiving elective credits. Sometimes, we had only two students in class and I think my partner liked that. 

Be that as it may, when he retired, a job posting went out for a teacher. I pushed for one with experience in shop because that was the bulk of the work the second teacher did in addition to supervising GED testing and help with classroom instruction. There was a teacher who lived in the city who was certified in elementary education and worked as a substitute. She was a good teacher but in my opinion was not qualified for the job. I made more trouble for myself when the principal told her that I didn't want her to have the job. Things were going from bad to worse. I was having more and more difficulty with the students and my partner who was retiring was absolutely no help. The job had been advertised in bigger communities. That's how I had learned about the job and had actually moved to the city to take the job. This was a man who came in and asked about the job one day. I told him he would have to speak with the principal at the ESD (Education Service District).  He briefly mentioned that he had experience working with special education students but he had no vocational experience. I told him again he would need to work that out with the Education Service District and Human Resources. 

Two days later my principal called and asked me what I thought about the man. I said he seemed nice, he did have special education experience but could he run the bike shop? Evidently, what my principal reported was that I liked this man and wanted her to hire him. Again, not the truth. He was hired and immediately went to work becoming a buddy with the students instead of a teacher. He was lax and had almost no knowledge of standards or how to work in programs that required meeting standards and testing in order to get a diploma let alone vocational experience, but he quickly established himself as the one who could work with the students. I had set up several independent study programs for students who were just one or two credits shy of graduation as a way of letting them be released for work. I had to do this because what the other teacher was doing was assigning credits in English by letting them write a report about what they did at work. That would have been okay with me, but the reports were read and thrown away and they were nothing that could be considered worthy of English credit. 

When the new buddy came in he became the one everyone wanted to be the main teacher. No one wanted to work with me because I was too rigid. So, to keep the peace I let the new partner set up the program for a student who only needed a credit in English to graduate and be released. He showed it to me and it looked great. The problem was the student was not doing what he was supposed to do and when I pointed that out, my partner said he would take care of it. Things were getting more and more difficult for me.

Students were allowed to use the classroom computers for independent work because the computers at the camp were off limits. In order to use the computers, a teacher had to log in and then monitor what the students were doing as well as the web sites they were using. I was working in a different classroom one day when I heard my partner give the password to one of the students he was working with. I became suspicious and had the computer tech come out and check usage of the computer. What he found were dates of use on weekends and after school hours. In addition, one of the web sites was a site used by a proclaimed Nazi skin head. At the same time I asked my partner to show me the completed file of independent study work that was due at the end of the week. What he showed me was definitely not worthy of a credit. I told him what needed to be done and he said he would take care of it. Not only did the student not complete the work, my partner turned in the transcript to the office as complete and the student graduated. What happened then was unbelievable to me. 

When I reported the incident, instead of asking my partner for the completed work, I became the one who was investigated and the end result was that I was to be transferred to a facility more suited to my rigid style. It was at that time that I obtained a lawyer who informed my employers of my intent to sue if they transferred me. A transfer would have meant selling my home that I had purchased with my husband and move back to Salem where the work was. When that happened I was put on administrative leave with pay while my allegations were investigated. Part of my allegations was that the environment had become so hostile, I did not feel safe there. And I was right. I received anonymous phone calls and was stalked when I went out in public. After a whole semester on leave in which no one came to me for lesson plans nor let me be involved in teaching in any way, I was called back to work under a Letter of Reprimand that was to serve as a warning with a plan of assistance that I was to follow in order to make it possible for me to work there. I could not go back to work and my attorney filed suit on my behalf. which resulted in what I described above. I know about the corruption in the prison systems. Although this was a juvenile camp with responsibilities to provide education and other programs to rehabilitate youth so they could return to society, this was nothing more than a revolving door. The camp operated to keep youth in line the best way they could and keep employment for as many people as possible. The work/study program was a farce and I now know that the verbiage in the 13th Amendment keeps marginalized people, even youth, at the mercy of servitude for the benefit of those in charge not for the person imprisoned. Let's start criminal justice reform by de funding the police and by this I mean giving them more training on deescalating violent situations where their help is needed but then employ the help of others who might be able to assist in keeping these corrupt institutions from being no more than a revolving door. I share this story not as a victim but from someone who has first hand knowledge of what is happening in the prisons so that justice may be served.  

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