Progress in Educational Equality: Despite cutbacks and barriers, school districts in the county are making progress in providing more equal curriculum opportunities to poor students and students of color. Notably, the San Diego Unified School Board, with the support of then-Superintendent Terry Grier and the Education Consortium, a broad coalition of organizations, including the ACLU, passed a resolution in June promoting “A-G for All.” “A-G” courses are those fundamental courses accredited by the UC and Cal State systems as being sufficiently rigorous to prepare students for college and career in a modern economy. Gross disparities in A-G availability and completion rates exist across the county and within school districts. After Grier left, San Diego Unified stood by its commitment and is taking steps to assess and implement the reform. Carlsbad and San Marcos are further along than San Diego Unified, and other districts are getting into the action.
Apologizing to Pete Seeger: Another nail in the coffin of McCarthyism. But, it wasn’t just symbolically important. In February, the San Diego Unified School Board apologized to legendary folk singer Pete Seeger for trying to impose an anti-communist loyalty oath on him 40 years earlier when he came to sing at Hoover High School. In 1960, he refused to sign the oath on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibited such thought and association censorship. ACLU volunteer attorneys Lou Katz and Irwin Gostin represented Seeger the morning of his concert and won. He sang to a crowd of 1,400 people that night. Forty years later, Californians who seek public employment must still swear an oath, even if it violates their religious and moral beliefs. Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others have lost jobs because of it. Alas, Seeger’s support for legislation to change that didn’t impress Governor Schwarzenegger who once again vetoed a bill passed by both houses with bipartisan support.
Standing Up for Harvey Milk: It’s always hard to know whether to count righted-wrongs in the Best or Worst column. Most improved? The Ramona school district righted a shameful wrong in June by apologizing to sixth-grader Natalie Jones for illegally censoring her classroom presentation about pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk. All was going well with the assignment; she got a grade of 49 out of 50, until the principal learned of it, said the presentation counted as “sex education,” and required parental permission from each classmate. Huh?! Only when the ACLU got involved, and news media throughout the world covered the story, did the district realize the error of its ways. To its credit, the district apologized in writing and allowed the presentation to go forward before the end of the school year.
Humanitarian Parole of Three Kids Deported on Their Way to School: It was heartening to discover that even the Department of Homeland Security has a heart, when in June they readmitted to the United States three high school students whom Border Patrol agents had picked up and deported during a raid on the Old Town Trolley Station. Their only crime? Taking public transit to get to school while being undocumented. Since a 1982 Supreme Court decision, public schools are barred from denying education to undocumented children; their presence in the country, the Court reasoned, is a decision “over which children can have little control.” During their detention, the children were mistreated and denied due process rights. DHS’s reconsideration is believed to be nearly unprecedented, and came about because of advocacy efforts led by the American Friends Service Committee and San Diego ACLU. We think snatching kids who have done nothing wrong as they go to school is bad for the community on many levels and is a poor use of resources. AFSC and ACLU continue to urge government agents to develop a more sensible policy when it comes to undocumented children who are not engaged in criminal activity.
The Notorious F.U.H.S.: Fallbrook High School has a long, rocky relationship with the First Amendment and the ACLU. In 1985, its principal suspended two students for circulating an underground newspaper. The ACLU sued. The school district settled, wrote a letter of apology, paid attorney’s fees, and instituted a training session for district personnel on student free speech and press rights. Alas, those lessons didn’t stick. In 2006, Fallbrook told a 15-year old, honor roll student to remove a small American flag in her back pocket, which, ironically, she wore to protest censorship of student expression about immigration issues. The ACLU intervened; national media (even Lou Dobbs, although he didn’t really understand the issue) covered it. Her record was cleared. In 2007-08, a new Fallbrook principal did not like two pieces written by student journalists for the school paper — an editorial critical of abstinence-only education and an article about the former superintendent’s departure. So, he censored those items. Then, he retaliated against the newspaper advisor for blowing the whistle and eliminated the newspaper class. After the Student Press Law Center wrote a letter, the ACLU and co-counsel Bostwick & Jassy sued. Under threat of a court order, the school finally authorized the paper to publish the editorial and article and, in settlement of the suit, agreed to send a nice letter to the students, oversee publication of at least four issues a year of the paper, compensate the advisor, pay attorney’s fees, and follow regulations and procedures respecting student free press rights.
Keystone Cops, Only More Abusive, Raid Francine Busby Party: There was no “Beer Summit” on the White House lawn after this high-profile home invasion, although the incident did get some national media coverage. In June, based on an early evening noise complaint, a Sheriff’s deputy, without permission, entered the home of two Cardiff women who were hosting a fundraiser for Congressional candidate Francine Busby. When the homeowner questioned why she had to give the deputy her date of birth, he twisted her arm behind her back and put her on the ground. He then pepper-sprayed a number of the mostly middle-aged guests who questioned his strong-arm tactics and arrested the homeowner. Soon, the party was joined by a police helicopter, dogs, and numerous squad cars. A bit too cleverly, Sheriff’s Sergeant Thomas Yancey managed to find candidate Busby responsible: “If Francine Busby was there, why not take a leadership role, step up, and nip this thing in the bud?” Typical of her findings in police-involved incidents, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis blamed everyone and no one … but especially the homeowner and especially not the deputy. The ACLU laid out its concerns here. We will get to hear more from the pepper-sprayed witnesses in 2010 thanks to a lawsuit filed by the homeowners and others present.
‘Tis the Season … for Illegally Destroying the Property of Homeless People: What’s the solution to homelessness in downtown San Diego? Apparently, it involves taking and destroying blankets, prescription medications, and photos of loved ones while homeless people temporarily leave their belongings outside the offices of service providers while eating or obtaining services. In December, the ACLU and the Dreher Law Firm sued the City of San Diego after three such raids in the fall (although a city official told news media there had been 27 similar incidents). The raids and the suit are now on hold while the parties negotiate.
Border Crossing Deaths Cross 5,000 … and nothing changes: It’s an old story in San Diego, but the pile of bodies keeps getting higher and crossed a threshold in 2009. The border fence that pushes migrants into dangerous crossings was contemplated by President Carter, built by President Clinton, and expanded dramatically by President Bush. Despite its apparent failures — the fence has done nothing to reduce illegal immigration or drug smuggling, and its apparent horrors — deaths far greater than predicted-President Obama seems likely to maintain this backwards, inhumane border strategy. We’ve recommended concrete, simple changes that would reduce unnecessary deaths immediately.
Stripping of Civilian Review of Police: Long, hard victories for civilian review of police conduct and use of force are being reversed by budget-cutting. The county’s review board, CLERB, has been cut back to near incapacity, while the city’s review board has had all its dedicated staff chopped. We understand that economic times require cuts, but there’s a difference between cutting back and cutting off. Both county and city are likely to pay back the savings many times over in misconduct lawsuits from the bad police practices that will inevitably creep into the system without meaningful oversight.
Southwestern College Free Speech Zone: Calling all Mario Savio wannabes! The Berkeley Free Speech Movement leader is no doubt rolling in his grave over the state of free speech on many college campuses — including post-stamp-sized “free speech zones,” like the one at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. Southwestern College’s president, Dr. Raj Chopra, has designated a tiny patio area as “Free Speech Plaza,” while declaring the rest of the 156-acre campus out of free speech bounds. The ACLU sent a demand letter, calling on the college to revise its policies to allow free speech and assembly throughout the campus. In 2010, we resolve to resolve this matter through negotiation or litigation.
Kevin Keenan is the executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.