Nel's New Day

May 29, 2011

LA Puts School Librarians in Basement

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:51 PM

“There’s no better use of limited funds than paying attorneys to harass educators who’ve devoted their lives to helping our children,” Bennett Tramer of Santa Monica, California, said in a letter published May 17 in the Los Angeles Times. His tongue-in-cheek response to the egregious treatment of Los Angeles Unified School District librarians concluded: “I also applaud the valuable presence of armed police officers at the hearings; you never know when a librarian will pull out a book and start reading.”

With the $640 million shortfall for next year, LAUSD officials laid off thousands of teachers. They also decided that only a “certified teacher-librarian” was able to manage the school library. If the person employed in that area was unqualified, according to their guidelines, then the school library could be shut down.

All California middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential. Therefore all librarians should be considered a “certified teacher-librarian.” The district, however, has made any transfers—including those of librarians—contingent on having taught students in the district within the past five years—according to the district’s definition of “teaching.”

Thus the district called in 85 school librarians into a basement with court reporters, judges, attorneys, and armed police officers. The librarians went to the witness stand, one at a time, and answered the attorney’s questions.

“When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?” “Do you take attendance?” “Do you issue grades?” “Have you ever taught physical education?” These are some of the questions asked the librarians. District officials define “teaching” as taking attendance and issuing grades. One librarian said that she taught the students “Reading Counts.” He asked her if there is a district course called “Reading Counts,” and she said no. According to the district, she is not “teaching.”

Robert Stevens, president of the American Library Association, wrote a letter on behalf of ALA that stated:  “If the elimination moves forward, only 32 of approximately 700 schools will have full-time school librarians and only 10 will have part-time school librarians. This means that approximately 600,000 students will be deprived of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to compete in today’s 21st century workforce – a school librarian. LAUSD must not ignore the countless studies that demonstrate that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests.”

Even more to the point, however, is the following letter from Jane Yolen to the LAUSD superintendent:

Dear Mr. Deasy:

As the author of 300 published books (yes, that is not a typo!),  many of them winners of the highest awards given for children’s and adult books, I have to commend you for closing libraries. You are turning out the lights in children’s minds. It will make them much easier to recruit as cannon fodder, much easier to move them on conveyor belts, much easier to treat them as cattle.

Of all the people who work in a school, teachers and librarians are the heart and soul of the place. Not administrators. My late husband was a professor and later on an administrator. You should have heard what he had to say about top-heavy administrations. I suggest you take the administrators (yourself included) and ask them the same questions the lawyers are asking the librarians in the basement: do YOU take attendance? Do YOU teach in the classroom? Perhaps you should fire the administrators first. And the overpriced lawyers. And when you do, you will no doubt find you have the money to keep the librarians.

And the library.

The ones who turn on lights in children’s minds and guard the flame in their hearts. With or without taking attendance.

Yours very truly and to tell the truth angrily as well,

Jane Yolen

The response via email to Yolen from Patricia Carranza on behalf of Dr. John E. Deasy, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District (213-241-7000): “Thank you for your email and sharing your thoughts. As you are most likely aware our school district, state, and nation are currently facing a serious budget shortfall. While librarians and library aides are extremely important, there is not an area in the school district that has not been cut. If all Unions agree with the Furlough Agreement, we may be able to rescind notifications.”

As might be expected, Carranza’s response was to blame the system, the budget, the unions. Not my fault. Etc. But Jane Yolen still wonders who forced the district to send the lawyers down into the basement to interrogate the librarians under armed guard.

Librarians are vital if young people are to find books that make a difference in their world. The elimination of librarians means the gradual disappearance of quality books that change people’s lives. The weekend of Memorial Day is a time that this death should be noted. We need to reflect upon the future of our country if people stop reaching out for knowledge because they no longer have “teacher-librarians.”

As of last Thursday, the Los Angeles School district and teachers have reached a tentative agreement which could enable the school board to rescind about 3,400 layoff notices. This action does not remove the memory of  LAUSD’s shameful behavior toward the librarians in the basement.

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