Academia Semillas del Pueblo : a charter school in El Sereno that has been, and still is, the subject of controversy.
According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, the school has performed well below standards and even lags behind schools with similar multilingual immersion programs.
Academia accrued negative publicity in 2007 after a confrontation with a KABC reporter who was investigating whether the school’s cultural mission, which includes an emphasis on Pre-Columbian social and educational practices, had a racist bent. A lawsuit was filed against the radio station and its popular morning host Doug McIntyre charging them with propagating hate speech. The case was dismissed and the plaintiffs were ordered to reimburse KABC for litigation costs.
Recently, the school’s legal counsel sent a cease and desist letter to the Mayor Sam blog concerning its unflattering coverage of Academia’s administration.
The Mayor Sam blog has a reputation of being irreverent and raucous – especially when it allowed anonymous posts that were often raunchy and disrespectful (that has since changed). I once took issue with the blog after I read offensive remarks posted by readers regarding a candidate in the 2009 CD2 special election.
However poorly I thought of the comments, I never once condemned the mission of Mayor Sam. Despite its somewhat outrageous approach to covering local politics, it was a refreshing alternative to the innocuous reporting of the mainstream media in Los Angeles.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging the establishment. Criticizing the actions of public institutions or officials is as integral part of our First Amendment rights. Yes, there are limits – for example, you cannot willfully defame another party, which Academia alleges Mayor Sam did.
However, were Mayor Sam’s criticisms defamatory or was it a classic case of whistle-blowing?
Not having followed any of the developments since the KABC confrontation, I cannot say.
Regardless of what they were, the cease and desist letter did not specifically refute the accusations, it just listed specific comments attributed to the blog that it claimed were potentially libelous.
The school is certainly entitled to defend its reputation, but it is always far more effective to do so by stating clear rebuttals, otherwise it simply amounts to shouting “you’re wrong.” Threatening what could be construed as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) without first engaging in a debate comes across as overbearing and reactionary.
We have to be able to challenge our government and public institutions through the media without the threat of retaliation. Academia is at least partially funded by tax dollars through the LAUSD. The way tax dollars are used in Los Angeles, especially by one of the most inept school boards in the nation, requires every whistle-blower we can get.