What’s Good for the Goose . . .

What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander in the Woodland Hills school district.

Back in April school staff were caught on video cameras manhandling students just days apart. Joseph Golden III, a behavior specialist at the Rankin Promise School, was reported immediately by the school district to Pennsylvania’s child protective services.  Golden was suspended the day of his incident and the district immediately began taking steps to fire him.  Superintendent Alan Johnson was “very saddened and sickened” by Golden’s behavior (TribLive, May 9).

Furthermore, when Allegheny County police and the district attorney’s office became aware of the incident, Golden was arrested and charged with assault and child endangerment. The incident occurred on April 12th but the video didn’t make the news for several weeks.  It shows Golden lifting a 13-year-old boy by the neck and dragging him down a hallway.  Not an approved “behavioral intervention” by any means.

On April 3rd, high school “resource officer” Steve Shaulis was famously caught truly assaulting a 14-year-old student at the high school: he put the young man in a headlock, dragged and body slammed him, and, in the ensuing scuffle, knocked out a tooth.  The student was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest.  The DA’s office is “investigating” that incident to see if perhaps Shaulis should get some charges!  Neither that assault, nor an incident from last November when a student recorded high school principal Kevin Murray threatening to knock a kid’s tooth out, drew outraged reaction from Superintendent Johnson.

Those incidents were just the “worst possible coincidences” that Johnson knew “in my heart” don’t “reflect what Woodland Hills is about.” He and some collective “we” were “trying not to let it overshadow all the good we’ve done” (Post-Gazette, April 24).

The ‘R’ word

This is what Woodland Hills is “about”: all of the student victims are African American. So is Golden, but Shaulis and Murray are white. To district administration, Golden’s behavior is “unacceptable” and so he’s got to go immediately.  Murray and Shaulis – also caught on video in 2015 beating up and Tasing a black student – are just misunderstood, unfortunate – and white.

Murray is not only still the principal of the high school, but newly named head coach of the prestigious football program. Golden is facing jail time, but no one – certainly not the DA’s office – is talking about similar punishment for either Murray or Shaulis.  And while the DA’s office takes its time and “investigates” naked brutality by white adults, it wastes no time in charging the black student victims.

Golden’s behavior was out of line and hard to defend. But Shaulis and Murray are caught red-handed running the principal’s office like an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay.

Needless to say, parents of black students are livid at the school district. They’ve been packing school board meetings but their more-than-reasonable demands that Shaulis and Murray be fired are continually met with the equivalent of a hearty middle finger.  In a school district that was born in the fires of racial fear and resentment, the district’s administration, led by Alan Johnson, continues to take an offensive and demeaning stance toward black students and parents.

The Woodland Hills school board meets throughout the summer and when it does, the parents and supporters of black students will continue to make their displeasure known. The district is over 60 percent African American; with unity and organization, it’s possible for the community to make its power felt.  This disgraceful, racist situation cannot be allowed to continue.  Racist principals, “resource officers” and superintendents have to go.

But all residents of Allegheny County should save some outrage for DA Stephen Zappala, who knows a crime when it’s committed by a black underling or a kid, but not when the head man and his overseer do the acting out. He’s not up for reelection until 2019 – plenty of time for a principled opposition to come together and put him out to pasture.

— James Collins


Woe Unto Us

Budget woes

The Republicans in the General Assembly responded to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal with their own bill that they passed last month without a single Democratic vote.  Nevertheless, with just a few party dissenters, the GOP majority was able to pass the legislation by thirty votes and send it on to the Senate where the Republicans have the votes to pass the bill and override a Wolf veto.

This bill is heartless to the extreme, prompting Allegheny County Democrat Joe Markosek to say that the GOP budget “cuts to the bone that which many of us agree was already bare.”  The Republicans were savvy enough to finally realize that cutting Wolf’s increases to education would be unpopular.  So this time, they want to take the axe to human services instead.

If the GOP has its way, Wolf’s proposal for child care assistance for low-income families would be cut by $62.9 million, leaving thousands of working families with few or no options for quality care; the waiting list statewide would expand to 19,000 children.  Six million dollars in cuts to home and community-based services for the aged would end supportive services for hundreds of senior citizens, effectively forcing them into nursing homes.

Pennsylvania faces a crisis of opioid addiction but the Republicans would cut $9 million from Wolf’s mental health and substance abuse budget.  Another $4.8 million reduction in aid to counties would also affect those suffering from mental illness and addiction, as well as the aged and those suffering from intellectual disabilities. This cut also hits hard at traditional GOP villains like the homeless.

Oh, the joys of a GOP budget!  Balancing the ledgers comes before satisfying the imperative to serve the needy that is at the core of their professed Christian religion! I could go on and on: the House Republicans might as well say, “Let them eat cake” – if the price of cake weren’t out of reach for so many people.

Politically, they are keeping us, the people of Pennsylvania, on the defensive; we’re constantly fending off cuts to essential services and eagerly embracing whatever small consideration to human need that politicians show.

We’ve got to change the tone and terms of the dialogue.  Human needs should trump all other considerations — no pun intended.

Officer Friendly in Woodland Hills

Woe unto the long-suffering parents of African-American students in the Woodland Hills school district.  White opposition has been a Woodland Hills hallmark since the creation of the multi-racial district in the early 1980s.  Black students have been valued for excellence in athletics — all of Wikipedia’s “notable graduates” are football players, most of them black — but are wanted for little else.

The latest chapter in the school district’s inability to come to grips with integration has made national headlines.  But despite being caught on video roughing up students as if he were in a Law and Order holding tank, Woodland Hills “resource officer” Steve Shaulis has yet to face the assault charges he so richly deserves.  Nor has his able accomplice, high school principal Kevin “Biff” Murray, been punished for being recorded helping Shaulis Tase a student.  In fact, he was rewarded: Murray was given the prestigious job of head high school football coach.  The school board’s support for Murray, who was caught last year threatening a student in an audio recording, sends a clear message to black students and their parents: fuck you!

The student victims of these assaults face various charges ranging from resisting arrest to aggravated assault.  It’s a literal school-to-prison pipeline.  And it’s been going on for years; the recorded incidents go back to 2015.  Woodland Hills parents and former students say it’s been going for a lot longer than that.

The mushmouthed pronouncements of the district (the recorded incidents do not “represent” the district’s “culture”), its actions (promoting Murray to head football coach), its inaction (how could this principal not be fired?), and the refusal of the appropriate authorities — say the county district attorney’s office — to do anything have fueled parent anger and necessitated the involvement of attorney Todd Hollis, who made the surveillance videos public, and the Alliance for Police Accountability.

We should support the parents and students of Woodland Hills in their efforts to rid their school of thugs posing as principals, coaches and “resource” officers.  And we cannot let the school board and superintendent get away with the underlying message behind these incidents: that blackness is something to be feared and contained by any means necessary.

— James Collins