Let the church say, “amen” to the settlement in the case of the student who was slapped by a teacher at Malibu High School (“SMMUSD settles Malibu slap lawsuit, attorney reports,” July 25, page 3). I commend the family for disallowing the district to turn the lawsuit into the angry black woman show. The demeanor of the family was extremely dignified throughout the endeavor. Based on the experiences of several African-American families in the district, I know that there is an effort to provoke that type of behavior from black female parents by district employees and other members of the community to discredit the claim and create a diversion from the issue at hand.

The teacher did not have any business putting her hands on the student. Especially, slapping her in the face four to six times, replicating the behavior of a character in a movie.

I was also highly disappointed in the initial response that came from the superintendent, Sandra Lyon. She called the slaps a “pat.” I could not believe that the high-powered law firm that represents the district did not provide her with a prepared public statement in an effort to build public trust, rather than dismissing the issue and shirking responsibility by downgrading the incident. This is not some mom-and-pop operation. SMMUSD is an organization that has a $150 million budget. I commend the board for stepping out of the comfort zone of hiring someone from the old boys network, but now that Ms. Lyon has broken the glass ceiling, she has to be willing to make the same tough decisions that a man would make. This is counter-intuitive for a woman, because we are nurturers by nature, and we are highly invested in how our actions make other people feel.

Part of me would love to believe that this is the last time that SMMUSD will find itself in this type of mess, but my 12 years of experience in the district, including the year that I just got done serving as the chair of the special education district advisory committee tell me otherwise. The board has a history of failing to implement solutions. For example, there are five reports that tell the district how to fix special education that have never been implemented. One of those reports cost $79,000. Part of that report recommended a policy about civility and respect. That also was never implemented. Perhaps if it were, there would have been no slap.

In the absence of those standards, a district administrator made the comment at my first meeting as the chair that “parents want a wonderful private school for their children, because they believe that their special needs child is more special than other special needs children.” This led to a verbal altercation with a member, and there were tears. When I said something to the administrator about being respectful, she just rolled her eyes at me like a 12-year-old. It was my worst nightmare realized. I knew that without a code of conduct that this was just the beginning of a crazy drama. I’m like Michelle Obama. I don’t do crazy and I don’t do drama. That led me to bring a meeting code of conduct from the city of Santa Monica to the table.

Putting a code of conduct in place kept the drama out of the meetings. Without a code of conduct and a civility policy, this lawsuit is just a drop in the bucket. I can wallpaper my house with horror stories from families about the behavior of district employees. The inconvenient truth is that there are no shortage of attorneys who are willing to sue the district and settlement agreements don’t bring systemic change.


Debra Shepherd

Santa Monica

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