By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But it was Ivan Zuno who felt most of the heat. "It was constant. I would turn around and there's administrators on me or there's cops on me." They questioned him and, he says, even threatened him. One school police officer, Zuno says, warned him, "Watch your back, I'm onto you," and after that, "was just on me in every way, over nothing, just trying to see what I'm doing, trying to see what I'm up to."
The afternoon before the LSU's first open meeting, the students who had signed the LSU's letter were summoned to the principal's office, where they found Webb and three assistant principals waiting. Webb wrote in her log: "I stated that the purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for them to meet with me and share their concerns and suggestions."
Cuevas remembers it differently. "She tried to explain to us why we couldn't have our demands. She went through them one by one. They all just sounded like excuses to us, that we couldn't have these things. But they were basic necessities."
"I addressed each of the demands on the list," Webb wrote. "Many of the students clearly did not understand what they meant. I told students that I was aware the demands were not their issues based upon the wording and interpretations of the meaning. Lucia [Ortiz] said, 'What, Ms. Webb, you don't think that your students can think like this?'
"I said, 'Lucia, that's not it at all . . . this is not your terminology. These are teacher demands.'"
The students were understandably insulted. Not only had Webb instantly denied them everything they had asked for, she would not even accept that they had the vocabulary to articulate their needs. "All we wanted was for her to support us so that we could talk to the district and the district could pay more attention to us," Ortiz says. Instead, "She basically tried to shut us down."
She failed. The LSU's meeting went on as planned, and though Webb did not attend, about 100 others did — students, parents, teachers, community members. "We were in awe," Cuevas says. The students left the meeting energized, certain that, despite Webb's opposition, they had sufficient support to make a difference. The following week, Ivan and other students went over Webb's head to a community meeting held by George McKenna, superintendent of local District I (the bureaucratic subdivision encompassing the section of South Los Angeles in which Locke sits) and once a nationally known school reformer who had been played by Denzel Washington in an HBO movie about his career. McKenna promised to look into the issues they raised — the lack of books and other supplies, the administration's lack of responsiveness, the "random" searches. Again, the students left feeling hopeful.
Back at school, though, the harassment only accelerated, for teachers and students alike, and the consequences of speaking out at Locke became clear. Two days after the community meeting, Motevalli received a memo from Webb warning her to "refrain from using students to move forward with your own issues and concerns," and another announcing that she would soon be disciplined for refusing the classroom search three months earlier. And things got bad enough for Zuno that he accepted some rather strange advice from a trusted guidance counselor, who suggested that because he was having so much trouble, both academically and with the administration, he might be able to graduate more quickly if he dropped out of Locke and enrolled in an adult school. "I was thinking, 'Okay, I guess he knows what he's talking about,'" Zuno says. "So I did it, I checked out of Locke."
On April 2, posters appeared in the halls announcing that a school-sponsored community meeting would be held at Locke the next day and that McKenna and Webb would be there to address student concerns. That same day, Motevalli met with Webb to discuss her punishment for her earlier insubordination. On the form Webb had filed to officially sanction Motevalli with a five-day suspension, Motevalli noticed that "There was a box that she marked X and it said, 'Recommended to be dismissed from the entire district.' My heart just dropped. I. Had. No. Idea," she says, her eyes widening and her voice slowing to emphasize the shock of it, "that that could happen." In the span of a few minutes, she had been not only suspended but fired, and not only fired but prevented from working as a teacher again in Los Angeles, and likely anywhere else. Motevalli was devastated. She went to the meeting nonetheless.
Excited by the prospect of a public audience with Webb and McKenna, the LSU had invited Los Angeles Times reporter Solomon Moore, a representative from the ACLU and about 20 supporters from the neighborhood. None were allowed to stay. Webb told them the event, though billed as a community meeting, was open solely to Locke High School staff, students and parents. She personally escorted Ivan Zuno out of the room, and handed him over to school police. "She told me, 'This meeting is only for students, teachers and community members,'" Zuno remembers. "'You're none of those. We have a cop outside waiting for you.'" That, he says, "is when I realized why [the counselor] gave me that advice." Only after the father of another LSU member intervened was Zuno allowed to leave without being arrested.