Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Face of Censorship!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Paula Maes; she is president of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education.

She chaired the Dec. 6 regular meeting of the Board where a topic that had received much local, national and international media attention over the weekend was about to be discussed during the public comments section. It was going to be a sparring match worthy of four or five rounds in the ring.

On Nov. 31, there was an incident at Rio Grande High School involving Principal Al Sanchez. Sanchez took 15-year-old Fidel Maldonado Jr., off school grounds without parental approval, to his local barber to have his head shaved.

Maldonado Jr. is a Silver Gloves boxer. In anticipation of an upcoming bout Maldonado Jr. had “505” sculpted on his otherwise shaved head. The zero was shaped like the Zia sun, as depicted on the state’s flag. The boxer has had his hair cut this way, before every bout since he was 10. New Mexico’s area code is 505 and is worn as a sign of state pride by some local boxers.

Sanchez presumed the “505” had some association with gang symbolism; he consulted the on-campus Bernalillo County Sheriffs’ Deputy, who indicated he thought it was gang related. Sanchez apparently told Maldonado Jr., he could be suspended or he could go to the barber and have his head shaved.

Sanchez would not allow the student to call his father and took him to his barber, Jake Maestas, at John’s Hair Design. Maestas, shown left, refused to cut the hair and gave Maldonado Jr., his phone to call his father, Fidel Maldonado Sr.

Maldonado Sr. talked to Sanchez, told him not to cut his son’s hair and to return him to school. He then filed a report with APS administrators.

Sanchez, who was not at the meeting, faced disciplinary action for his conduct. He had not been in school because he took medical leave, citing stress from the publicity. APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said Sanchez was disciplined, but could not reveal what action was taken, because of privacy rules in personnel matters.

There was a group of more than 20 Rio Grande High School parents and students present to offer verbal support for the principal. The first speaker, Parent Teacher Organization President Clara Gabrielle, attacked the character and reputation of the Maldonado family and when finished, she was met with thunderous applause from her group.On the other side of the room was the Maldonado family, their lawyer Paul Livingston, barbers from John’s Hair Design and other supporters.

Board member Leonard J. De Layo, Jr., left, objected to hearing comments about a personnel matter that would be handled by the administration. It is something the board is specifically prohibited from involvement.

Other members of the Board including Vice President Miguel Acosta, center, and Robert Lucero, right, suggested that the board had an obligation to hear from parents, students and the public about their concerns. They went on to say that during public comments, it was the Boards’ position that they have a "duty to listen," but that they could not engage in a public discussion; it was an opportunity for the public to air whatever they wanted. The admonition against emotional displays and personal attacks was made again.

Maes requested an opinion from the Boards legal advisor, Art Melendres, left, who suggested that the Board might want to revisit it’s policy on public comments at a future policy meeting, but for the moment might wish to continue.

Some of the speakers showing their support for Principal Sanchez; they called for no disciplinary action, if he is found to have acted improperly.Some of the speakers supporting Maldonado Jr., called for recognition that the young man had done nothing wrong; was a dedicated boxer and had no time or interest in gang activity. After the public comment section of the meeting, the Maldonado party was accompanied by a couple of Albuquerque Public School Police officers until they left the property.
So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Maldonado Jr., who won his boxing match and shaved the 505 off his head before returning to classes Monday.

According to the APS Student Handbook, outlining the Board’s formal policy, a student can be suspended for the following reasons: weapons, arson, drug dealing or distribution and acts of violence.

Principal Sanchez exceeded his authority by threatening suspension for an incident that did not allow for suspension. It constitutes an unfair dealing with a student and violates the employee standards of conduct, “to set good examples in conduct, manners, dress and grooming.” When Sanchez took the student to the Deputy Sheriff, he further violated that policy on interrogation of students and when he removed him from campus, he not only further violated policy, but also might have strayed into criminal activity.

“That’s like false imprisonment, to me,” Maldonado Jr., told KOB TV.com, according to a posting by Reed Upton. He may be right.

Rio Grande High School’s PTO president, Gabrielle, left, said that the police report did not indicate Sanchez had harmed the boy. The Journal reported Tuesday, that they could not get a copy of the police report because of a claim of an ongoing investigation.

A call to APS Police Chief Gilbert Lovato went unanswered; I filed an inspection of public records request with the school police for the report Friday. It would be available Monday, APS spokesman Chavez said. When I talked to Chavez late Friday about the incident, he did not reveal any information. He was evasive in his answers and I reminded him of his duties as a public information officer. I should not have to know the answers to questions for him to simply verify. His obligation was to provide information, even when the question was, “What's happening?”

My question was much more specific. However, he was not forthcoming with the information he knew that I sought. He did have my number, so he could inform me of where I could pick up the police report, but he did not call when he learned the details of my outstanding question.

The police would not have indicated that his son was injured because no APS police officer took a statement from either father or son, Maldonado Sr., said, after hearing Gabrielle give a TV interview to KOB’s Shelton Dodson after the public comments.

The APS police report was delivered through Chavez’ office of community relations as the custodian of records. No other copy of the report was delivered through that office.

The report does not list an offense, but instead is classified as an incident/information report. The status of the event is closed. The report lists Maldonado Jr., as an APS student and Maldonado Sr., as a parent. The principal’s name does not appear in the “subject/victim/suspects/persons/businesses" portion of the report’s face sheet.

Through simply following this story in the newspapers and occasionally being awake for a local TV newscast, one would also know of the existence of at least four or five other witnesses to this event who were not identified or interviewed by officials. They include the assistant principal who brought Maldonado Jr., to Sanchez and three witnesses at the barbershop, two of whom made statements during public comments.

As a former police officer and state certified instructor, who taught report writing at the police academy and having worked in the Records Section of the police department for several years, this report raises several questions.

APS police did not take this matter seriously and did as much as they could to minimize the event. The report, taken by Officer K. Santillanes, does not accurately reflect either the complaint being lodged or the facts that occurred.

We don’t know all of the facts that occurred because of the lack of any meaningful effort by the officers, from doing their duty, by even contacting all the parties involved. Though Maldonado Sr. completed a victim/witness statement form for Sheriff’s Deputy B. Felmler, neither Maldonado Jr., nor Sanchez, made a verbal or written account of the incident. Santillanes and Felmler have an obligation to do a complete investigation. It is never too late to do the right thing and assign this case to a competent investigator for a thorough follow-up and a forwarding of their findings to the District Attorney for review.

The inaction of the reporting officer, in not even listing the principal’s information in the proper portion of the report is indicative of nonfeasance. This report is not the product of any investigation.

How did Gabrielle get to see a copy of the report before the meeting, when the Journal was told it was unavailable because there was an ongoing investigation?

Conclusion: Cover up!

DeLayo did not object to statements of support, but said he did not think negative comment should be heard. His objection to allow for public comments, to; criticize, support or defend anyone, runs counter to the Board’s own mandate. “The Board shall provide an opportunity for citizens to be heard regarding their concerns, complaints, or commendations during public forum at each regular meeting of the Board of Education.”

During the public comments, De Layo left the room, pausing briefly to speak with Melendres.

The public participation policy statement ends with, “Complaints about individual employees will not be heard.” This sentence is an absurdity. The Board meetings are the only public forums available to citizens to express themselves about their schools. Many times, citizens simply want to be heard. The Board has established its own rule that they will not comment or engage speakers. Complaints about individual employees cannot be prohibited. The fact that the Board members do not deal directly with personnel issues does not mean that they and the community should not be aware of such issues. There is no better place to be heard than at the public podium.

Maes, as the president, seen above with Board Secretary Mary Lee Martin and Board Member Birna Facio, unilaterally ordered that the video unit of APS not air the public comments section of future Board meetings. “I moved the public comments to before the meeting starts,” Maes said in a telephone interview. "The County Commission does the same thing."

When asked how that squares with existing Board policy, “B.10 Public participation at Board meetings…,” Maes said she didn’t know; she would have to talk to legal counsel and get back to me with an answer on Monday. As of posting Wednesday she had not called to update with the legal opinion.

APS Board meetings are video taped and then delivered to KNME that airs them on TAL-Net, http://www.knmetv.org/education/talnet.php3, according to Joanne Bachmann Associate General Manager at KNME-TV.

TAL-NET is the Teach and Learn Network, operated by KNME 5, http://www.knmetv.org/ and is one of three Public, Educational and Government Access cable TV stations. TAL-NET is broadcast locally on Comcast channel 96.

The other two stations are Public Broadcasting Channel 27, http://www.quote-unquote.org/ and GOV 16 http://www.cabq.gov/govtv/index.html.

Channel 27 provides citizen produced programming paid for through a five percent franchise fee from Comcast's. gross revenues.

This is Mike Trujillo, an independent producer and a member of the Board of Directors of Quote... Unquote, Inc. He also videotaped the public comments at the APS Board meeting. Trujillo invited the Maldonado family and lawyer Paul Livingston to be guests on his show, Zero Hour Squared at 9:00pm Fridays.

Channel 16 airs City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County government produced programming with the emphasis on airing City Council and County Commission meetings along with selected board and commission meetings.

Does Maes' statement that the County Commission does the same thing, cause your mother's voice to echo in your mind? “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow?” Just because the County Commission does wrong, doesn't allow APS to jump also.

What Maes, as well as the Bernalillo County Commission, misses is that when a quorum of the governmental body comes together, that is a "meeting" according to the State’s Open Meetings act. They are acting illegally if they hold public comments prior to the drop of the gavel.

Maes, along with the County Commission, are now trying to skirt the law and the intent of the public comments portion of meetings. That intent is to allow citizens to speak, but just as important is for viewers to hear what their fellow citizens have to say.The concept of free speech is revolutionary in origin; there are several ideas at play. Taxation without representation; it is the duty of governing bodies to listen to the electorate and citizens. The theory of the revolutionary day was that an informed electorate was better equipped to form their opinion when they had open access to public meetings and newspapers. The theory is just as valid today; although there are more media and means of expression than newspapers and pamphlets.

City Councillor Brad Winter, who is APS’s executive director for facilities and support operation, told me at the APS meeting that governing bodies should just let the people speak. The City Council is now contemplating moving its public comments portion to the end of its meetings, Winter said.

Governing bodies in our area simply do not want public involvement and are desperately trying to find ways to avoid following the law.

Censorship seems the easiest way.

5 comments:

Michelle Meaders said...

Thanks you for covering this meeting so thoroughly. The APS parents and taxpayers need to know how arrogant their school board and administration are. I was there to see for myself, because of reading Ched MacQuigg's blog, Diogenes Six: http://ched-macquigg.blogspot.com/.

I wish we knew if young Maldonado got to explain to the principal that he was a boxer and had been doing this haircut for many years. If so, the principal could have called the barber, who probably knows what is a gang haircut and what isn't.

Does Rio Grande High School have a dress code, or fall under one for APS? I noticed that one speaker, a fellow student, said he had been sent to that principal's office many times for "sagging" or something similar about the way he wore his pants (the same way one of the barbers was dressed, by the way). He said he was told each time that he could be sent home, but wouldn't be (Why?). Shouldn't discipline (when warranted) be consistent?

Ched MacQuigg said...

The Principal had a no win situation. It is the board and superintendent that told him to hold the line with no back up.

I would like to know what you have to say about board members being accountable to the public and to a meaningful standard of conduct.

Ched MacQuigg said...

Did you know that Paula Maes is married to the president of Modrall? Modrall makes so much money off APS that they won't respond even if you file a NMIPRA request with Rigo.

Ched MacQuigg said...

Have you seen the agenda for the Wednesday meeting? It no longer includes a public forum.

Little help here please!

Ched MacQuigg said...

The next board meeting has been cancelled entirely.

bottom of the agenda