Kandise Lucas is an Education Civil Rights Advocate
As a veteran Educational Advocate and professionally trained educator for over two decades, I have had my share of conflicts with local school district administrators. Throughout my tenure of serving as the power that “levels the IEP playing field” for hundreds of families, I have learned that, for many school district administrators, “educated” advocates and parents are a threat to the system and institution that we refer to as “public education.”
While school districts like Henrico and Chesterfield spew their superficial claims of desiring “parental engagement” at every level of education, what these district officials truly desire is “blind parental compliance” within minimal participation for the purposes of avoiding accountability, responsibility, and viability of our youth.
Very few individuals know that I began my educational career, after leaving an extremely lucrative corporate career as a chemist, within the most challenging alternative school settings with children that the public school system had deemed “throw aways.” These districts made the decision to place these children in settings where academics were optional and abuse/neglect were certain, all at an enormous expense to taxpayers. To make matters worse, these districts waste millions of dollars, each year in “outsourcing” our children to poorly ran programs that ensure that they will be out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The “warehousing” industry of alternative education is booming in Virginia, courtesy of school districts that would rather put our most challenging children away, as opposed to invest the resources required to educate and empower them within the public school setting.
After less than six months of serving as a English Instructor for middle school students with special needs, I was hand-picked by my administrator to participate in a cohort at Virginia Commonwealth University that lead to my being certified by the Virginia Department of Education in Educational Leadership and Supervision. Those that received this certification were expected to assume principal roles and other administrative positions within the district that had invested so greatly within them. I was on the fast-track for superintendent until I refused to “go along to get along” while trampling on the backs of our children, as so many school administrators choose to do just to get ahead. For me, falsifying student records, altering disciplinary forms, forging and illegally changing educational plans, bullying and intimidating parents, failing to educate and nurture students, and even going as far as to cover up the abuse and neglect of students by other district employees was not something that I could ever condone, even if it forced me to sacrifice my career in education. As I told the Henrico County School board when confronting them about the ongoing abuse in our schools by district employees at their December 2007 monthly meeting, “I can always get another job, another teaching contract; I don’t care about either and am willing to lose both to protect our children; but you must understand that our children and families will never be able to get another life after it has been traumatized as a result of being neglected and abused in what is suppose to be one of the safest places on earth for our children on your watch.”
The cohort, where academic icons, such as Dr. Bill Bosher, who later became one of my mentors, all taught us the various aspects of the public education system; from finance to law, proved to be one of the most empowering experiences in both, my professional as well as personal life. It was there that I learned how the system worked and why it did not work for our most at-risk youth. Experiencing this cohort also lead to my attending the University of Richmond’s Paralegal program, so as to sharpen my legal expertise and abilities as it related to education as a civil right.
After being named the “Golden Child” and “Go To Guru” by my colleagues, administrators, and various educational organizations, I found myself being placed in the role of facilitator for various organizations on the local, state, and international levels. I received the honor of presenting for everyone from the Virginia Department of Education, sharing best practices regarding classroom management; to The Black Administrators In Child Welfare, Inc., regarding the over-identification of African-American male students in special education. I was even called upon to offer testimony for the United States Senate regarding the School-To-Prison Pipeline. Subsequently, my notoriety became a liability for district officials because as I became classified as an “educational expert,” “advocate” and “long time critic” by the media, they could no longer dismiss me as a “disgruntled employee,” “trouble maker,” or “loose cannon” as on local pastor referred to me as. God has a funny way of flipping the script so that all that is wrong is made right, and all that are done wrong, receive justice.
As I began to educate and empower myself, I felt obligated to educate and empower all of those around me, specifically parents of students with special needs. As Harriet Tubman did before me, it was time to go back and get those that were enslaved to the system out and empower them to fight for their families and communities. While I felt that this was the right thing to do, the slave masters of Henrico and Chesterfield County Public School did not. I slowly began to witness an increasingly hostile and aggressive response from district officials when either my parents or I would exercise our rights under state and federal law. As my advocacy efforts grew, so did the districts’ adversity efforts. I can recall numerous instances in which attorneys retained by the school district, courtesy of the county’s taxpayers, would threaten me for recording educational meetings on behalf of my families. The district officials were so intimidated by the concept of being recorded that, in one instance, Attorney Kathleen Mehfoud, an attorney with Reed Smith Law Firm that is retained by numerous school districts at taxpayers’ expense, demanded that I not record the meeting with our family and became extremely irate about the issue, to the point of actually yelling. When I confronted her with the fact that it was our legal right to record the meeting and that we were going to exercise that right, she made even more attempts to intimidate us and stop the recording of the meeting. What was so ironic about Mehfoud’s blatant bullying tactics to deny and limit the exercising of parental rights within the meeting, is that she, herself, had educated me on the legal rights of parents and students years ago when I was an educator.
Eventually, it became clear to the district that not only had I mastered the art of advocacy on behalf of my families, but I grew to be better at it than they. At that point, both districts resorted to “Bull Connor” and “Massive Resistance” tactics to limit my ability to advocate for my families in addition to bullying the families into submission so as not to allow them to exercise their rights. Dr. Marcus Newsome, Superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools, and former Superintendent Patrick Russo, of Henrico County Public Schools, sent, via email, “no trespass” notices to me that were indefinite and allowed for no due process regarding challenging the matter. Pedophiles were allowed more freedom on school grounds than I, as an advocate. I later learned that the notices were actually generated by Attorney Mehfoud, who, since she could not win against my families and I fairly, resorted to falsifying documents and implementing illegal bans with no means of recourse. Mehfoud was exposed for her actions when Dr. Newsome, in his infinite wisdom, forwarded the ‘no trespass” notice to me with Mehfoud’s previous email to him still attached.
Despite the illegal “no trespass” notices that were issued through an abuse of power by both, Mehfoud and the district superintendents, I continue to advocate on behalf of my families and our children that need the advocacy the most. Very little has changed regarding the ongoing civil rights violations by school officials and their retained attorneys. In both, Henrico and Chesterfield County, if you are an “educated” and “empowered” parent that advocates on behalf of your child to ensure a quality education and prevent abuse and neglect by school officials, you will become a target of the district. You can expect to be dismissed, ignored, demonized, and even maliciously prosecuted if Mehfoud and her crew have anything to do with it. The expectation for parents and advocates is to “comply” and never to question the district, nor hold them accountable in any manner.
I can say that, in recent years, since the publication of The UCLA Civil Remedies Group 2012 research project, in which Henrico County Public Schools was named third in the nation for violating the civil right of African-American students; and Chesterfield County Public Schools has been named in the U.S. Senate Hearings for systematically and repeatedly engaging in the illegal seclusion and restraint of our most vulnerable children; the tide of public opinion is turning, and parents are experiencing a new level of boldness.
Gone are the days when Special Education Director Mike Asip can manipulate and mislead families with his “trust us, we want the best for your child” phrase. Long gone are the days when School Social Worker Supervisor, Jan Parrish, can illegally and maliciously prosecute parents that keep their children home for truancy when their children are being physically abused and neglected within the school setting by school employees. Long gone are the days when school districts abuse, neglect, violate, and exploit our children, then expect us to accept their actions as though Jim Crow, himself, endorsed it. Long gone are the days in which school districts can send Child Protective Services to the homes of parents that exercise their right to refuse to sign illegally developed IEP’s that fail to include the parent and do not meet the needs of our students.
Am I public enemy number one for Henrico and Chesterfield County Public Schools? I would say that I am, and I wear this title proudly. The districts can continue to ban me, criminalize me, demonize me, and even trivialize me; but the reality is that my God-given assignment is to “speak for those who have no voice,” and to hold these individuals that work for you and I accountable for the futures of our children…all children. When it comes to our children, there can not be fifty shades of grey. Either you are for our children or you are not. There is no position, title, paycheck, or political connection that is worth failing our children. If you are not for our children, then you are an enemy to me and God, and both, He and I will treat you accordingly in this war for the mind, body, spirits, and souls of our children that has been fought by our ancestors and continues to be fought by us. Oh, and by the way….my families and I will win this war. Just watch….we are giving “fight the power” a whole new verse.