Reader Jack Covey left the following comment in response to a post about Utah:
“One of the first actions as newly appointed superintendent that really caught the ire of the community was to fire all of the librarians in the district including many reading specialists, citing potential increases in the cost of benefits under the Affordable Care Act. [ii] Smith also went on to explain that Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries. [iii]This turned out to be false, but deaf to the public outcry by parents, teachers, and students, the librarians did, indeed, lose their jobs. Many had been in the district for decades. After all was said and done, a handful of librarians remained.”
A lesser known outrage during John Deasy’s reign of terror in Los Angeles schools was his treatment of librarians. Just after taking over, he made a speech at Occidental College calling them useless and a waste of money, and then went after them.
Once he closed school libraries and removed the librarians in charge of them, the next step was to keep librarians from being placed in classroom position—as most had 10-30 years seniority, and were at the high end of the pay scale—and fire them from the district to save money.
What happened next defies description. They were put through hearings that were right out of Arthur Koestler’s DARKNESS AT NOON. The intent was to “prove” that, though fully credentialed by the state to teach, their years as librarians rendered them unfit to return to the classroom.
“… attorneys representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked Kafkaesque questions such as ‘Do you take attendance?’ of dozens of teacher-librarians appealing their layoffs in order to prove to an administrative judge that the teacher-librarians were not qualified to become classroom teachers. At least, that’s what observers such as Tobar and Nora Murphy, a teacher-librarian for L.A. Academy Middle School and blogger, have written about the hearings.
“What does taking attendance have to do with being a highly trained educator who is duly credentialed and who teaches how to learn? Here’s the connection: A recency rule established this school year by LAUSD officials (and upheld by an administrative judge) states that a teacher-librarian who has not taught in a classroom for five years is no longer, by definition, a qualified teacher, no matter how many years of service and training she or he has.
“And if a teacher-librarian hasn’t taken attendance in five or more years, she or he must not have been in charge of a classroom. The administrative judge presiding over the hearings upheld the recency rule, clearing the way for the trials. It is unclear when the judge will rule on the individuals’ qualifications.
“In a May 18 op-ed in the Times, Murphy said:
” ‘I have listened as other teacher-librarians have endured demeaning questions from school district attorneys, and I wonder how it has come to this. . . . The basic question being asked is whether highly trained and experienced teacher-librarians are fit for the classroom. LAUSD’s lawyers seem determined to prove they are not.
” ‘One librarian, who would like to go back to an elementary classroom if her library is closed, was asked to recite the physical education standards for second-graders, as if failing to do so would mean she was unfit.
” ‘Another teacher, who wants to return to teaching English, noted that she spent all day in the library effectively teaching English. But her inquisitor quickly started asking questions about the Dewey Decimal System, suggesting that since it involved more math than English, the teacher was no longer practiced in the art of teaching English.’
“Among those laid off is Leslie Sipos, teacher-librarian for the middle- and high school library at the brand-new LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, which was featured in American Libraries’ 2011 facilities showcase. ‘She hadn’t even gotten all the books out of boxes,’ Monroe High School Teacher-Librarian Annette Scherr told AL.
“ ‘The elimination of school librarians means the District is losing invaluable teachers whose educational specialty is empowering students with life-long, independent learning skills,’ wrote American Library Association President Roberta A. Stevens and Nancy Everhart, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, in an open letter May 18 to the LAUSD board and administration.
“Urging the district to reconsider its decision, Stevens and Everhart asserted: ‘The elimination of these positions will have a devastating effect on the educational prospects and success of the District’s students. A good school library is not an option—it is essential to a good education.’
“As the grilling of teacher-librarians and other LAUSD educators proceeded, there was a presumption that state aid to education was going to be slashed yet again in FY2012, which would be partly responsible for LAUSD having a nearly $408-million deficit to erase. However, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced May 16 that, because state revenues had mushroomed $6.6 billion more than anticipated this fiscal year, he was recommending the restoration of $3 billion to education spending.
“If LAUSD receives the $300 million it would be due, it’s unclear whether it could help alleviate the situation in which teacher-librarians find themselves. What could help is the intense networking and outreach that members of the California School Librarians Association are doing to make the Los Angeles school libraries crisis as visible as possible.
“Teacher-librarians such as Scherr lobbied in the state Capitol with the California Teachers Association in mid-May for additional education funding, and even buttonholed California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was among those backing the state’s adoption last year of model school-library standards. Authors Neil Gaiman, Bruce Coville, and Jane Yolen have been spreading the word through Facebook; Gaiman has also created a #savethelibrarians hashtag.
From Kafka to kiosk?
“Scherr and other LAUSD teacher-librarians remain determined, but according to the April 20 quarterly report on bond-funded projects issued by district Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott, the district has already reorganized the Instructional Media Services, which supported the school-library program, into a new department: the Integrated Library and Textbook Support Services.
” ‘The Director position of Instructional Media Services is being eliminated,’ Elliott writes, noting, ‘ILTSS supports the instructional goals of the Superintendent and LAUSD by ensuring new school libraries will be made available to students. . . . It is understood that all libraries need a certified librarian, but budget constraints force us to investigate different options for the schools to implement.’ ”
“According to Scherr, Elliott testified before the administrative judge that there was no function a teacher-librarian could perform that couldn’t be performed by anybody else. That philosophy is reflected in the report, which goes into detail about the implementation of Follett Software’s Destiny integrated-library system for library and textbook inventory management. Principals are offered three options: Find external funding for a teacher-librarian to manage the software system; delegate a school staffer to learn and maintain the software; establish an unstaffed ‘kiosk’ self-check system so students and faculty can still access the library’s collection.”
And here’s Hector Tobar’s report at the LOS ANGELES TIMES:
“In a basement downtown, the librarians are being interrogated.
“On most days, they work in middle schools and high schools operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District, fielding student queries about American history and Greek mythology, and retrieving copies of vampire novels.
“But this week, you’ll find them in a makeshift LAUSD courtroom set up on the bare concrete floor of a building on East 9th Street. Several sit in plastic chairs, watching from an improvised gallery as their fellow librarians are questioned.
“A court reporter takes down testimony. A judge grants or denies objections from attorneys. Armed police officers hover nearby. On the witness stand, one librarian at a time is summoned to explain why she — the vast majority are women — should be allowed to keep her job.
“The librarians are guilty of nothing except earning salaries the district feels the need to cut. But as they’re cross-examined by determined LAUSD attorneys, they’re continually put on the defensive.
” ‘When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?’ an LAUSD attorney asked Laura Graff, the librarian at Sun Valley High School, at a court session on Monday.
” ‘I’m not sure what you’re asking,’ Graff said. ‘ I teach all subjects, all day. In the library.’
” ‘Do you take attendance?’ the attorney insisted. ‘Do you issue grades?’
I’ve seen a lot of strange things in two decades as a reporter, but nothing quite as disgraceful and weird as this inquisition the LAUSD is inflicting upon more than 80 school librarians.
” ‘With my experience, it makes me angry to be interrogated,’ Graff told me after the 40 minutes she spent on the witness stand, describing the work she’s done at libraries and schools going back to the 1970s. ‘I don’t think any teacher-librarian needs to sit here and explain how they help teach students.’
“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.
“For LAUSD officials, it’s a means to an end: balancing the budget.
“Some 85 credentialed teacher-librarians got layoff notices in March. If state education cuts end up being as bad as most think likely, their only chance to keep a paycheck is to prove that they’re qualified to be transferred into classroom teaching jobs.
“Since all middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential, this should be an easy task — except for a school district rule that makes such transfers contingent on having taught students within the last five years.
“To get the librarians off the payroll, the district’s attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don’t have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they’ve prepared and reading groups they’ve organized.
“Sandra Lagasse, for 20 years the librarian at White Middle School in Carson, arrived at the temporary courtroom Wednesday with copies of her lesson plans in Greek word origins and mythology.
“On the witness stand, she described tutoring students in geometry and history, including subjects like the Hammurabi Code. Her multi-subject teaching credential was entered into evidence as ‘Exhibit 515.’
” Lagasse also described the ‘Reading Counts’ program she runs in the library, in which every student in the school is assessed for reading skills.
” ‘This is not a class, correct?’ a school district attorney asked her during cross-examination.
” ‘No,’ she said. ‘It is part of a class.’
” ‘There is no class at your school called ‘Reading Counts’? Correct.’ ”
“Lagasse endured her time on the stand with quiet dignity and confidence. She described how groups of up to 75 students file into her library — and how she works individually with many students.
“Later she told me: ‘I know I’m doing my job right when a student tells me, ‘Mrs. Lagasse, that book you gave me was so good. Do you have anything else like it?’ ”
It’s a noble profession. And it happens to be the only one Michael Bernard wants to practice.
” ‘It’s true, I’m a librarian and that’s all I want to be,’ said the librarian at North Hollywood High School, who has been a librarian for 23 years and has a master’s degree in library science.
” ‘The larger issue is the destruction of school libraries,’ Bernard told me. ‘None of the lawyers was talking about that.’
“School district rules say that only a certified teacher-librarian can manage a school library. So if Bernard is laid off, his library, with its 40,000 books and new computer terminals, could be shut down.
“Word of the libraries’ pending doom is starting to spread through the district. Adalgisa Grazziani, the librarian at Marshall High School, told me that the kids at her school are asking if they can take home books when the library there is closed.
” ‘Can I have the fantasy collection?’ one asked her.
“If they could speak freely at their dismissal hearings, the librarians likely would tell all present what a tragedy it is to close a library.
“Instead, they sit and try to politely answer such questions as, ‘Have you ever taught physical education?’
“It doesn’t seem right to punish an educator for choosing the quiet and contemplation of book stacks over the noise and hubbub of a classroom or a gymnasium. But that’s where we are in these strange and stupid times.”