District and DHS Violate Due Process Rights of Teacher

Marianne Kennedy testifying before the SRC on November 15, 2016

by Lisa Haver

This commentary was published by the Philadelphia Daily News on February 8, 2017
Commentary: Shame on those who tainted teacher who was only trying to do good

Although understandable fears have arisen recently that the constitutional rights we have taken for granted are under attack, Americans, for the most part, still have confidence that those rights remain intact. All citizens have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, to have an attorney present during any trial or hearing, to a fair and speedy trial before an impartial judge and to present evidence and witnesses. Both the Fifth and 14th Amendments state that no citizen can be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” and that all levels of government must adhere to these laws.

Many who read the article last month about the plight of Philadelphia teacher Marianne Kennedy were shocked to learn that those rights apparently do not apply to all Philadelphians.

After coming to the aid of a troubled student with a history of behavior problems last June, Kennedy was summoned by a social worker at the city’s Department of Human Services to come in and “have a conversation” about an incident at the school when the child lay on the floor, screaming and blocking access to a classroom. The DHS worker assured Kennedy she did not need to have an attorney present, and a colleague who accompanied her was barred from the interview. Kennedy explained that the child’s parents, who had just lost custody of him, had a history of drug abuse and that the school’s staff and administration had worked with his guardian to provide emotional and academic supports for him.

Kennedy was shocked to find a few weeks later that her employer had been notified by DHS that she had been identified as a child abuser and that the district was already taking steps to have her terminated – even though she was not, and still has not, been provided with any notice of allegations that specifically states what she could have done that could be construed as abuse.

Several witnesses, including the principal, submitted statements sent to DHS and the district that Kennedy followed proper procedure and never did anything to harm the child. Only the organized and vocal support by her colleagues and community members prevented Kennedy, a teacher with over 20 years of exemplary service to the students of the district, from being fired. There is no law that says that a preliminary determination by one DHS worker must result in the firing of any school district employee.

DHS scheduled a hearing six months after that initial interview, presided over by an administrative law judge hired by that agency. Kennedy has spent those six months in “teacher jail,” even though she had no formal hearing before the School Reform Commission – a clear violation of her tenure rights. Thus, Kennedy was guilty until proven innocent. Her reputation was damaged and her livelihood threatened without due process. She has had to raise thousands of dollars for attorney’s fees.

Kennedy is one of a number of Philadelphians who work with children in schools and day-care centers who now find themselves branded as criminals before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. Not only have they been denied their constitutional rights, many have lost their livelihoods and their reputations – not because they have been convicted or even arrested, but because one bureaucrat at the city’s Department of Human Services makes a determination based, very often, on hearsay.

Mayor Jim Kenney and other elected officials have shown courage and leadership in fighting to defend the constitutional rights of immigrants and other targeted groups. Those same officials must take immediate steps to prevent denial of due process and equal protection under the law by any city agency under their own authority.

Click here for more coverage of Marianne Kennedy’s case.


Shining a light on the SRC

Lisa Haver testifying before the SRC.

On December 22, 2016 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook published an article about APPS  scrutiny of the actions of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. This is the article:

Shining a light on the SRC
by Darryl Murphy – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook
Picture by Darryl Murphy

Thanks to the School Reform Commission, Lisa Haver and other members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools now have a daily habit: reading the newspaper’s classified section.

Haver and five other members of the advocacy group were among the few people present on the morning of Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, at a quietly announced SRC meeting. The announcement of the meeting was made only in an ad placed in the classified section of the previous day’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

The purpose of the proceeding, as many suspected, was to cancel the School District’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Haver said she didn’t know about the meeting until another APPS member, Karel Kilimnik, called and asked her about it.

“Since then,” said Haver, “we have one member of APPS who, every single day, goes and looks at the classifieds to see if the SRC or the District is putting in these tiny notices that they don’t want people to know about.”

After a settlement with the SRC this fall, that kind of stealthy notice may be a thing of the past.

As a governing body for the city of Philadelphia, the SRC must adhere to the Sunshine Act of Pennsylvania, a law requiring “all meetings or hearings of every agency at which formal action is taken” to be open to the public with an opportunity for them to comment. This, according to lawmakers, is to create and maintain transparency in governing agencies for “increased public confidence.”

“If you don’t have an informed and active citizenry, government suffers for it,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

“Ideally, government and the public they serve work together for the best interest of everyone. And the public can’t help government do that if they don’t know what’s going on.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Lisa Haver’s Inquirer Op Ed: Public education could face major threats in a Trump presidency

imgresby Lisa Haver
December 1, 2016

The election of Donald Trump as president had an instantaneous effect when students in several schools became targets of racial and ethnic intimidation. High school students in Bucks County found swastikas and anti-gay slurs painted on walls; one girl found a note in her backpack telling her to “go back to Mexico.” African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were sent text messages with the greeting “Heil Trump” announcing the next “N-Lynching.” Immigrant and Muslim children wondered whether they would be rounded up like criminals and jailed or deported.

Whether or not the hate crimes continue, the long-term effects of a Trump presidency could cause irreparable harm to one of the bedrocks of our democracy: an open and equitable system of public education. Trump has made several pronouncements about wanting to break up the “government schools monopoly,” viewing it through the only perspective he understands, that of a corporate CEO. His outspoken support for more charters and “school choice” would not be a complete departure from his two predecessors, whose No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives made millions for edu-vendors and testing companies while doing little to narrow the achievement gap for poor and minority students. Trump, though, talks of diverting billions of public dollars to private schools via voucher programs, despite overwhelming evidence that they have done nothing to improve educational opportunities for most students.

Apparently, Trump wants to replicate Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s experiment in Indiana, where twice as many students attend charters than only five years ago. Nearly 60 percent of Indiana children are eligible for vouchers averaging about $4000 annually – which would not cover even half the tuition of most private schools, who, of course, are under no obligation to accept them. A recent study of the Indiana program conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that voucher students in private schools actually performed worse on standardized tests than those who remained in public schools.

Taxpayers across the country are already spending $1 billion for tuition to private and religious schools, including those in Cleveland, New Orleans and Milwaukee. Two-thirds of Wisconsin students receiving vouchers were not “rescued” from failing public schools, since they were already enrolled in private schools.

Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education signals his clear intention to ramp up the privatization of American’s public schools. An heir to the Amway fortune worth an estimated $5.1 billion, DeVos has no degree or experience in education, did not attend or send her children to public schools, has never been elected to any local school board. She has been a major contributor to right-wing organizations, particularly those working to dismantle public education through voucher programs.

“It is hard to find anyone more passionate about . . . steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos,” writes New Jersey taecher Mark Weber.

One impediment to the federal imposition of this free-market approach to public education could be the growing opposition on the local level. Voters in Montana, Utah and North Carolina elected strong pro-public education governors. Georgia’s voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum, pushed by Georgia’s Republican governor with heavy financial support from the Walton Foundation and other pro-choice groups, that would have forced public schools with low test scores to be turned over every year to private management or charter companies. An effort to unseat judges in Washington state who upheld lower court decisions that the state’s method of funding charters was unsuccessful, despite millions poured into the campaign by Bill Gates and other corporate reformers.

And, in a stunning defeat for pro-privatization donors with deep pockets such as the Walton family, who poured $26 million into the campaign, voters in 241 of 255 Boston precincts rejected a charter expansion referendum by a resounding margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.

The new administration would do well to understand that voters are rejecting failed privatization policies. Parents don’t want to be forced to search for alternatives – they want fair and equitable funding for quality public schools in their own communities.

Link to the Inquirer article.

Victory for APPS in its SRC Sunshine Suit

APPS logo

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, November 18, 2016
SRC agrees to more transparency

The meeting was held early in the morning, called with minimal notice. Barely any members of the public were present, and no one registered to speak.

 But the School Reform Commission took an unprecedented step – voting to cancel its teachers’ contract – on Oct. 6, 2014.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an activist group, sued, alleging the SRC violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act with this under-the-radar move. More than two years later, it has settled the case against the SRC and then-Chair Bill Green, winning a promise of more transparency from the commission.

 The SRC must now be more forthcoming about the purposes of its executive sessions, telling members of the public which specific cases it discussed if legal matters come up.

It also agreed to post on the Philadelphia School District’s website full SRC resolutions two weeks before meetings. The exception is quasi-judicial resolutions.

Resolutions presented less than 48 hours before a regular meeting will be made available to the public and clearly marked as walk-on matters. The SRC also promised to allow interested people to speak about walk-on resolutions without advance registration, and agreed to not take any votes until the public has had the chance to comment.

A district spokesman said the SRC was pleased that the parties were able to reach a settlement.

“The policy adopted in response to this case codifies practices, such as publishing resolution lists two weeks in advance of public action meetings, which the SRC put in place last year in order to increase public access and transparency,” said H. Lee Whack Jr., the spokesman.

At the October 2014 SRC meeting, no one was allowed to testify until after the vote – which has since been nullified by the state Supreme Court.

The lone speaker that day was Lisa Haver, a retired School District teacher, a frequent district critic, and a founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. This week, she called the settlement, years in the making, “a first step – a significant step – toward more openness and transparency.”

Haver and others have been frustrated by the SRC’s method of operation.

“People have to know what their government is doing, and to have a reasonable opportunity to speak on it,” Haver said.

The settlement is enforceable in court, and Haver said her group would continue to monitor the SRC closely.

But, she said, she is optimistic that a new-look SRC – Joyce Wilkerson just joined as chair and Estelle Richman awaits state Senate confirmation – will help push the issue.

“I think that they will honor this agreement, and they may be open to making the SRC more accountable, more transparent,” Haver said. “They both worked in government for a long time. The SRC is a governmental body. It controls a $2.6 billion budget. It has to be more accountable.”