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Opinion: Race and culture in public schools

November 10, 2011
(Al Seib / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks weighs in on the impact of race and culture in Los Angeles County public schools, illustrating her point through an incident several years ago involving Pasadena Unified School District board of education member Scott Phelps.

Phelps, a teacher at Muir High Schoo at the timel, ignited a controversy in 2002 when he blamed unruly African-American students for the district's poor test schools. 

From the column:

Teachers can't concentrate on teaching, he said, because they spend too much energy trying to change the behavior of boisterous, disrespectful African American teenagers, students who "are not like them."

The claim, in a letter to fellow teachers, raised such a ruckus at Muir High that Phelps — an award-winning science teacher with a master's degree from Caltech — had to be escorted off campus and put on leave for his own protection.

Weeks of forums and community meetings made it clear that Phelps had touched a tender spot.

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Black teachers echoed his concerns, students defended his passion, and African American parents agreed that too many black teenage boys in their community were not being disciplined or guided at home.

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