Litigiousness, fear, and losing our voice

Last week all three teaching staff in my daughter’s Early Head Start classroom were absent.  I had assumed that they were possibly attending a training or some other work related program.  When I questioned the lead teacher replacement, she stated that she didn’t know anything other than they were not in the classroom.  She seemed very stressed and uncomfortable whenever she was questioned.  This caused me a little bit of concern, but since I was familiar with her and the other subs in the room, I just let it go.

On Sunday I received a call from another parent who believed that all three staff had been terminated or placed on some kind of administrative leave and were not going to be allowed to return or attend and participate in the Transition/Graduation Ceremony they had been helping our children prepare for.  She informed me that there was a public Policy Council meeting taking place last night and asked me to be there with her, so that we could possibly get answers and express our concerns regarding the impact on our children.  Yesterday, she contacted me again to verify that I would be there and indicated that she felt that some of the administration were trying to intimidate and discourage the parents from participating.  She also requested I bring a letter, which is what I wrote as my blog entry for yesterday.

Attending the Policy Council meeting was an interesting experience.  One that I wish I had taken advantage of before and may engage in, if my daughter is able to continue and transition into the Head Start program in the future.  One of the most interesting things the response of the Director of the Head Start Program when asked by a Board Member regarding the possibility of finding creative ways to provide services to community members in need who are not currently being served.

He stated that the federal agency in charge of overseeing the program nationally has a very punitive response when programs don’t stick strictly to the established guidelines and protocols.  Which means loss of funding.  In a punitive atmosphere taking risks and being creative in exploring solutions and ways to serve the needs of the community decreases.  Therefore, there are no current plans in place to address the needs of those not currently being served due to questions of program eligibility.

This discussion took place during the course of the three hours of agenda items regarding audits, budgets, strategic planning, program self-assessments, and program reports while we were waiting for the Personnel agenda item to be addressed.  Personnel was actually the first agenda item on the list, but got pushed back because when the meeting began there was not a Quorum of Policy Council members present to vote on the action items, even though the meeting began 15 – 20 minutes late.  Within less than five minutes of that declaration the remaining numbers to reach quorum arrived.

When Personnel was finally up, a disclaimer was stated that only those who were part of the Personnel Committee had knowledge of the details and that legally they were not able to discuss any of the details outside of the context of their committee meeting.  To do so would open them as individuals and the organization up to lawsuits and negative legal ramifications.

So we sat through the voting.

Only one of the teaching staff who had been absent had her name brought up and voted on.  The vote carried through her termination.  Some of the other voting seemed to indicate that personnel to replace all three staff were being put in place.

Once the voting was finished, we attempted to voice our concerns and advocate for the staff.  At that point, we were shut down and instructed to not speak any further until we had met with and voiced those concerns to the Program Director of the Early Head Start Program and that bringing those concerns to air in front of the Board and Policy Council in an open public meeting would open us up to negative legal ramifications and potential lawsuits.

I didn’t pay attention enough to the early civics lessons of Schoolhouse Rock and what was taught in the elementary schools I attended.  By the time I was in High School and made my attempts to complete a College education, I was so caught up in surviving the day to day realities of having been a low-income, teen, single, welfare mom, that I didn’t think about, engage in, or understand the ramifications of judicial decisions and creating laws and rules through litigation, and did my best to ignore and avoid political involvement and discourse.

I look around me now and see the changes that have taken place in our country over the past two decades, while I was too busy being overwhelmed with surviving my circumstances and cycling through the depression, fibromyalgia, and relationship problems in my life and realize that there are way too many of us who have lost our voice because we didn’t use it while others increased the power of litigation and now use fear of litigation to silence us.

No longer is it a question if rationality, morality, truth, and justice will be the determining values and priorities when making key decisions: political, organizational, or personal.  Now the question is, “How much will it cost in terms of time and money if this issue is taken to court?”  So, the perception and fear that someone might, possibly sue an individual or organization becomes the determining factor in whether we get to exercise our freedom of speech.

We have lost and continue to lose our voice to the fear of litigation.

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25 comments

  1. And now, with NDAA we can be detained or jailed without charges, indefinitely. It is unbelievable to me where this country has come in terms of freedom (or lack thereof). The government (and other agencies) continue to use fear tactics to prevent us from voicing our concerns, nevermind the truth. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, both are very much appreciated.

      You are correct in how many freedoms have rapidly slipped away as we have begun to operate out of fear and put too much trust and power into the “hands” of government and organizations.

      The only way it will reverse will be if each individual chooses to stop operating out of insular fear and short-sighted egocentricity of making decisions based on how to stay safe and comfortable, maintaining their own status quo. Something I have great difficulty doing myself, most of the time.

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  2. There are always the newspapers, the tv stations, and your congressional representatives. At least your concerns will go farther than the meeting room’s round file and your WordPress blog. Oh! and FaceBook. Everywhere you can. Twitter? I don’t, but you could if you do. Find out whose congressional committee oversees HeadStart and send ’em all very nice but very concerned letters. Hey–this is an election year! Write to Obama! (but not his irksome campaign leader, David Axelrod–that guy is a jerk).

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    1. Paralaxvu,
      Thank you for those ideas. I’m not quite ready to take on that level of action, for several reasons. One of which is that I personally need to actually educate myself more about the practices, policies, and procedures governing the organization and what I actually agreed to when I signed up for the services of the organization. Another factor is that I don’t want any action I take to inadvertently be at cross purposes with actions that the people who were directly affected may be taking. I’ve actually managed to contact the primary teaching staff and have a personal meeting set up with her on Monday. After that, I’ll see what more I need to do in order to help support her.

      Ultimately, though, I’m not ready to jump full bore into a crusade that may wind up being a time suck and ineffective use of what energy and stamina I possess. I don’t want all the good this organization does do to wind up being jeopardized because I went off half-cocked. If my daughter is able to receive services in the future, then I will definitely invest time and energy to gain a stronger grasp of my role, rights, and responsibilities as a parent instead of just going along for the ride.

      Be well,
      Kina

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  3. Thank you for not being apathetic, like so many other people in this country. You saw something wrong, and you’re going to try to do something about it. I admire you for taking action.

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    1. Mary,
      Thanks for that. I have definitely been guilty of being apathetic. Although, much of my apparent apathy has more to do with the struggles with the mental and physical difficulties I experience within the context of the responsibilities and relationships in my life. It isn’t because I don’t care, it’s because I struggle with being able to prioritize and allocate my limited resources of energy, stamina, time, and mental concentration. I suspect many people struggle with these same things. My cop out has been that I don’t want to speak up without knowing more and I haven’t had the wherewithal to do the research I deem necessary in order to take informed action.

      Be well,
      Kina

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  4. Hi Kina,

    Wow. I live such a sheltered life! That was a pretty intense experience, especially for your children! I worked in child care and I know how important a role these people play in the lives of our children. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think that I would have stood up and said something about that. How can they fault you there. The whole thing just sounds kinda icky the way they went about it. Wow.

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    1. Amy,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      I did speak to what our children were experiencing as a result of the disruptions. I addressed it in my letter and I addressed it in the mini-post meeting meeting we parents had with the EHS Program Director. However, since I had to stay with the main group for a few minutes after the main meeting in order to get some information from the Program Director of the actual Head Start program I’m trying to get my daughter into, I came into the room after all the other parents had said their piece and were crying and very emotional about the decisions. So, when I actually tried to speak, some of what I wanted to say got lost and redirected from what had already been presented before I arrived. Live and learn.

      Be well,
      Kina

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  5. It is sadly the case that many corporations and Governments use these types of scare tactics to prevent people from voicing opinions and doing anything about challenging them. They seem to rely on the fact that people are unaware of what they can do or they make the process to actually take action that the time and effort that would be needed to put in is more than the average individual can afford.
    I truly commend your efforts to get involved Kina and I wish you the best success with getting things done!

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    1. Thank you Keith. You are quite correct in that many people in positions of authority and power play on people’s sense of ignorance and lack in order to steamroll decisions into directions not to the good of those who are supposed to be being served. I’m not 100 percent convinced this is what was happening, but it is a definite possibility. Since this was my first and only encounter with this process, I don’t actually have enough knowledge of the people or processes involved to make an accurate assessment. It’s something I will definitely pay attention to moving forward.

      Be well,
      Kina

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  6. What a crappy situation. My son is 20, so he’s very much of an anti-establishment mindset, which means I get to hear frequently about how individuals are losing more and more of their power every day. It’s scary to see such a depiction of this reality in an educational environment, when it’s the kids who will ultimately suffer the most. It really does seem unlikely that any of the staff has done anything to truly jeopardize the safety/well-being of the children, but have probably just fallen into some sort of policy violation. Not that I really think fighting fear with fear is the proper answer, but maybe they have legal action of their own that they can take to defend themselves.

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    1. Cheri,
      Thanks for stopping by reading and commenting. I appreciate it. I think your assessment is right on target. Right now I’m thinking that the people who were on the Board and Council weren’t necessarily operating out of a sense of them being more powerful than us, but were very much operating out of their own sense of fear of repercussion and made hasty decisions from the fear of being in violation of federal rules and regs that dictate program policies and procedures. Much like the Jewish religious leaders started creating erroneous laws and statutes that violated and punished the people in order to “protect” and put a “hedge around” God’s commandments. It reached the point where they had forgotten the purpose of the commandments and only enforced the statutes for the sake of not violating them. Insanity, really.

      Be well,
      Kina

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    1. Diana,
      At this point there isn’t much I can do regarding this specific situation. However, I am in the process of trying to get our new application together and submitted to see if I can get her enrolled into the Head Start program next year. If those efforts are successful, then I plan on volunteering and becoming a Policy Council member for next program year, and get as involved as possible in the decision making processes.

      Since this was my first time attending the meeting and I had not opted to avail myself of the opportunities to learn and understand the processes, rules and guidelines involved, I wasn’t as well equipped to know how to effectively use my voice.

      Regardless of whether she continues in this program or moves into another one, this has really opened my eyes to how much personal power I have abdicated to “the powers that be” while I have been so consumed with struggling through the difficulties and challenges in my personal life. So, while I continue to work through those ever present and ongoing issues I have to stay cognizant and create space in my mind, emotions and life to increase my civic awareness and involvement in relevant areas and learn how to effectively advocate for myself and others to stop just accepting the status quo out of a sense of futility and survival mentality.

      Thanks for asking.

      Be well,
      Kina

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  7. I’m glad you posted this experience. It is important that all of us know what our legal rights are and what sorts of things we can say without being sued. Since you were going to advocate for those staff members, what slanderous things would you have said that would have caused a lawsuit? They can’t just file a frivolous lawsuit just because you come to someone’s defense.

    Because I am who I am, I would have told them I’ll take my chances. As long as you don’t reveal anything “personal” about a person, you aren’t violating their privacy. Those people use intimidation to manipulate and because we aren’t sure of our rights or what the laws say, we set ourselves up to be manipulated.

    Besides, they can’t really afford to sue you so chances are it wouldn’t go any further.

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    1. Julia,
      You are absolutely correct. I and so many others have failed to understand, research and exercise our rights and thus have given up our personal power.

      The combination of poverty and survivor mentality, along with the daily distractions, reality t.v. for example, have increased the number of citizens who are incapable of thinking critically and taking effective action to advocate for themselves and engage in creating positive change. This is one of the reasons for the loss of personal freedoms and the increasing decline in our nations economy and effective engagement on the world stage.

      Like Michael Jackson stated, “I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.”

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Be well,
      Kina

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