Racism? Profiling? Prejudice? Or Incompetence? The Tale of One Student, Zoned for Butler.

If you think there is no systemic racism in the Huntsville City Schools, perhaps you could explain to me why, without even opening her record, a Mexican girl who transferred from Butler to Lee in 2010 was automatically enrolled in Lee’s remedial classes.

Oh, but you say, this happened 4 years ago, pre-Wardynski. True, but it was the same Board of Education with the exception of Culbreath. And considering the hostility of Wardynski to transfers within the system, it would surprise me to learn that transfer students are now treated with respect. Or given a chance at least.

OK, you object, this was one counselor’s decision. I met with this counselor the next year and found her, as kids had told me, to be a pleasant person who seemed to care about her students. A meeting that should have taken 15 minutes took at least 90 because she was interrupted repeatedly by kids who needed help. If the events that transpired in the letter here were of her making, they were in the context of the HCS’ culture.

The story is laid out in this letter of complaint I sent to Lee. I’ve changed the girl’s and parent’s names.

“I am contacting you on behalf of the mother of one of your freshman students, Maria Garcia. Her mother, Ana Garcia, has fairly good oral comprehension of English but still feels inhibited when she tries to speak in formal situations.

“I have known the Garcia family for six years and was instrumental in Maria’s enrollment in Holy Family School after she completed 5th grade at University Place since we were all dubious about the atmosphere at Ed White Middle School. Maria was zoned for Butler High and entered Lee under the No Child Left Behind provisions.

“My understanding from Maria and her mother is that they are concerned that nevertheless she is in fact at risk of being left behind since at Lee she was scheduled into classes that seem very basic to her, especially her math class. Maria wants to go to college. She is a bright young lady and should go to college.

“If her placement was based on her final grades at Holy Family, there are a few things that should be considered. First, Holy Family uses a traditional grade scale [A 93-100; B 84-92; C 74-83; D 65-73; F 64 and below], so an 83, which would be a mid-level B in the Huntsville City Schools, is a C at Holy Family. Secondly, at least half, perhaps three-quarters, of Holy Family’s graduates go on to Catholic High, which is a college prep school (more than 60% take at least one AP course, 100% college acceptance rate). Unfortunately, although she was accepted to Catholic High, her family could not afford the $6,900 tuition, and so instead are trying to get her the best education they can at Lee.

“Maria tells me that she has been to see you and her understanding is that she will need to wait until her sophomore year before her placements can be re-evaluated. The logic of this is hard to see: why not make the decision now, and let her start getting challenged during the second semester of her freshman year?

“May I ask you to please talk with Maria and explain what Lee has to offer her? Perhaps that would be enough, or we could arrange a conference with you, me, Maria and her mother. Should you have any questions, I can be reached at xxx-xxxx.”

Maria’s schedule was re-cast that same week.

So what do we have here? Was Maria pipe-lined into remedial classes because she was Mexican? Because she was zoned for Butler? Because she was presumed to have gone to a Butler feeder school? Or all of the above?

There’s been a lot of insulting, condescending editorializing over at al.com this week about the need for parental involvement. This girl’s parents cared about her education, although they have little themselves. They did not, however, know how to work the system.

What became of Maria? Despite never seeming to spend a moment studying, she made As and Bs at Lee, but never had much interest in her classes. By the end of her sophomore year, she had lost a lot of her sparkle and ambition.

Her parents sent her back to Mexico to live with her grandmother. They thought she would be safer there and would get a better education. She excelled, and is now in college.

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More Consultancy Fees for the Shredder. Separate and Unequal. A 3-Minute Tour.

Update, October 29:

Well, what a coincidence. I posted this on Friday, and today, Monday, there was some news on Butler’s “News” page and some more content on its homepage. Two of the events are for Tuesday, the 30th and one for the 31st. Not much notice then, but better than none.

Money for the Shredder.

With all the news about the beatings at the Pinnacle Schools and the propaganda regarding the digital initiative, you may have missed this article in the Huntsville Times by Challen Stephens: “Alabama leads nation in desegregation cases; Huntsville looks to shed 42-year-old order.” Stephens notes that Huntsville City Schools “remain under judicial order to erase signs of a dual system based on race,” but have “now decided that ending the order should be a top priority and has made that a performance goal for new Superintendent Casey Wardynski.”

Will the Board achieve this goal by obeying the law, doing the right thing, and eliminating the numerous disparities between predominantly white and predominantly black schools?

Not exactly. No, their strategy instead is — surprise — to hire a consultant: “Wardynski this summer brought in Maree Sneed, a Maryland educator turned Washington lawyer and desegregation specialist.” As of October 12, 2012, “Huntsville has paid Sneed for two days of work, $2,448 for July 31 and $2,076.75 for Sept. 14.”

Might as well have sent that $5524.75 through the shredder because Huntsville is nowhere near achieving even a separate and equal school system.

The 3-Minute Tour.

I can show you this in 3 minutes. Open a new tab and go to the HCS site. Now open 2 more tabs, one for Butler High, and one for Grissom. Some consultant (I’m willing to bet) got paid well over the summer to standardize the schools’ websites. Only they aren’t. Compare the Butler and Grissom home pages you just opened. Sure looks to me like a lot more is happening at one school than at the other.

Go a little deeper. Let’s try Guidance. Butler’s page is blank. Grissom’s says it is still under construction, but directs you to link tabs at top of that page, all of which lead to pages full of information and additional links.

Try Latest News. There are 6 subject links at Grissom. At Butler, there is no news [on 10/26; 3 items on 10/29].

How about School Publications? Grissom: 3 links. Butler: 0.

And so on.

How Can This Be Blamed on Students or Parents?

This is my favorite aspect of our short little tour. I simply can’t imagine how Wardynski, his enablers, or even the most rabid comment posters can blame this very public, very obvious display of inequality on the Butler student body or their parents. The students aren’t responsible for the website, and neither are the parents. I don’t know who is, but I can tell you that it doesn’t take a $2500 a day consultant to see that there’s a problem here.

If Consultant Sneed has any professional integrity, she’ll tell the Colonel to save his money because she can’t convince the Justice Department that Huntsville deserves unitary status.

She can’t because it doesn’t.

Dear Board:

Really guys, just how stupid do you think the US Department of Justice is?

“I don’t want us just to get unitary status, I want us to deserve it,” said McCaulley. I’ll clue you in, Ms. McC — you aren’t getting it any time soon.

McCaulley thinks that “the new digital initiative, awarding laptops to each student, helped standardize the curriculum between schools in different parts of Huntsville,” and that this will make a difference.

Malarky. The curriculum has always been standardized because the same textbooks have been adapted for all schools in the system. Geez, lady, think about it.

David Blair believes it is “way past time” to be getting out from under the deseg order: “It’s the right thing for the kids, right thing for the community and the right thing for the city.” Way past time — agreed. But the order isn’t going away just ’cause you are tired of having it hanging over your head, man.

Here’s a suggestion: instead of talking about digital initiatives, spend a few minutes online visiting the websites of the schools in the system. You might see what is obvious to the rest of us.

And while you are at it, type “Pinnacle” in the search box of the HCS main site.Why, oh why, is there nothing about the system’s alternative school on the system’s site?

One might conclude that the Supe, the Board, and the whole of Merts aren’t proud of their association with this train wreck.

Colonel, We Need to Talk About BLOOD

Those of you following the latest example of systematic ineptitude in the Huntsville City Schools know that the superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski’s reaction to the beating of a 15-year-old girl in a Butler High bathroom is beginning to sound chillingly similar to the litany of domestic abusers: first, underplay the seriousness of the crime (for example, calling it horseplay. Colonel, when it is three against one, it isn’t horseplay) and next, blame the victim (for example, for being “in a bathroom 20 minutes after class begins“).

I hope I’m wrong but I can easily imagine that the next command from the Colonel will be that teachers cease and desist from granting bathroom passes or be prepared to answer to his beady-eyed wrath. Kids can go between classes or not at all will be the theme.

Colonel, there are reasons, good reasons, why a female of child-bearing age may need to go to the bathroom at an unscheduled time.

I haven’t any reason to believe this pertains to the girl in the Butler case. That doesn’t matter.

It pertains to all females who menstruate. Yes, folks, I’m going to describe to the Colonel in graphic detail why sometimes a female might need to go to the toilet 20 minutes after class begins. So if this might offend you, just click out. The Colonel needs to know what it means to bleed for 2 to 7 days every 21 to 35 days. I doubt that strategies for accommodating menstruating students was a topic discussed at Broad Academy, Rand, Harvard, or West Point.

While the average age for starting to have periods is still claimed as 12 in the US, girls who start as young as 8 are not unusual, and 10 to 11 seems to be increasingly common. I can bet you that some fourth or fifth grade teacher in the HCS is going to have to deal with a girl getting her first period right there in his or her classroom.

It happened to a girl in her class when my daughter was in fifth grade. The little girl was terrified. The male teacher got two older girls, one my daughter, who from her requests through the year to go to the nurse’s office suggested to him she knew what was happening, to take the girl to the nurse so she could call her mom and get cleaned up and calmed down. This, Colonel, is what it is like some days in the classroom.

When girls first get their periods, they are irregular, and in fact there isn’t a woman reading this who even after years of bleeding hasn’t been caught by surprise. When a girl tells the teacher she needs to go to the bathroom or to the nurse, telling her to hold it til the next break isn’t going to work if she has started to bleed. Blood flows. Menstruation isn’t like urination or defecation. There’s no way to control it.

But you object that by the time a girl is 14 or 15 or 16 she should be experienced enough to handle her “problem” without disrupting the school routine. If she has five minutes between classes on opposite sides of the building, does she really have the time she needs to wait her turn in the bathroom and then go through the hassle of changing a tampon or a pad? If she can’t do the impossible and is thus tardy to class, she has a strike against her. So maybe she thinks it is better to get to class on time and go to the bathroom once things settle down.

Or maybe she is caught off guard. Her period starts early, and it happens to be ten minutes into an hour-long class. Maybe she is wearing loose heavy dark jeans and absorbent cotton briefs and it comes on as a drip drip. But maybe it comes on as a full flow and she is wearing tight lightweight white pants. She needs to get to the bathroom and she needs to go now.

Or maybe she went to the bathroom and changed pad and/or tampon between classes but she is having a really heavy period. She passes a big black glob of blood that she knows has leaked past the tampon and has a good chance of overflowing the pad, if she is double protected, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case. I can remember a time when I went to the toilet, changed tampon and pad, went out to get the newspaper, passed a blob, and immediately returned to the bathroom. Colonel, this happens. And when it happens, a girl needs to go to the bathroom. Now.

No, it isn’t the HCS’s fault that for females of child-bearing age life is sometimes — well, regularly — a bloody mess. You can blame it on the parents, I guess, for giving life or the chance for a life, to females. Female students’ bloody messes are something that they bring with them into Wardynski’s world. Make it more difficult for them to go to the bathroom when they need to and I guarantee you you’ll see a rise in absences.

Colonel, this is life. This is what you have to deal with if you are going to involve yourself in the lives of real flesh and blood young women. You can’t stop their blood flowing. If you can’t handle the bloody messiness of real life, go back to your virtual solider games where the blood doesn’t stain and doesn’t stink.

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