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Locke Down 

Two years ago, a group of Locke High School students demanded something they weren't getting— an education. They got one, all right.

Thursday, Feb 6 2003
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Many of the students cared too, and more of them likely would have cared if they had ever been allowed to expect something better, if anything had ever been expected of them. They cared that some classes were taught almost entirely by substitutes, often a different one each day, and some were simply minded by security guards. Cuevas' 10th-grade math teacher left Locke at the beginning of the second semester. "They had to transfer him out of the school for some sexual-harassment issues," she remembers. He was replaced by a series of subs, few of whom even tried to teach the material. She didn't learn anything for the rest of the year. "They just gave us a final in the end, and that was it." Cuevas studied on her own and passed, but other students in similar situations often failed because no one had ever taught them the material they were being tested on. Enough failed classes means no diploma, which means little hope of escape from the two possibilities stretching in front of too many inner-city kids: a grim chain of demeaning, low-wage jobs or, grimmer still, prison.


Locke today: By all accounts,
a different, better place


The latter prospect was all too real at Locke. When there weren't enough subs to go around, some classes would go completely unsupervised. With hallways constantly packed with students, racial tension and intergang rivalries had ample opportunity to boil over into violence. The administration's reaction, students say, was never to deal with the causes of violence, not to hire more teachers, but to further militarize the school, hiring additional security guards, installing cameras, searching more students with metal detectors. None of it helped. Even as fights began, students complained, school authorities rarely acted, intervening only once things had flown out of control, and then doing so with indiscriminate brutality. "Kids were just hogtied," Cuevas says. "They were slammed on the floor. When somebody tried to stop the fight, they were Maced too. The police would just run in the middle of the circle and spray everybody around them."

Then there were the searches. "I got searched different times for different reasons," says Ivan Zuno with a nervous laugh. Sometimes he was searched after getting in trouble, but mostly, he says, it was when he had done nothing wrong. The district had, and — despite the allegedly lackluster efforts of the ACLU, which sued the district on behalf of several Locke students — still has, a policy of random metal-detector searches intended to deter students from bringing weapons to school. A team of administrators, campus aides and school police is supposed to randomly select a class, and with minimal disruption of the lesson in progress, randomly select students to be searched, patting them down only when the metal detectors go off. At Locke, students say, the searches were almost never random. Students were selected at the whim of a dean. Those chosen were generally taken into the hallway and, in full view of any students walking by, lined up against a wall and frisked.

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Sometimes all students arriving late would be searched as they came in. Sometimes school police would grab students as they walked through the halls and pat them down on the spot. Once, while hundreds of students were attending an assembly, principal Annie Webb announced that someone had tagged up one of the boys' bathrooms, and that every single student would be searched for spray paint as they filed out of the auditorium. Nothing was found in Zuno's backpack, but the suspect cans of paint turned up in another backpack along with a sketchbook containing, among many drawings, one signed by Zuno. Webb told him he would be arrested, he says, if he didn't either cop to the crime or tell her who did it. He refused, and nothing came of it, but their relationship, which had once been fairly genial — she had at one point talked to him about redesigning the school's logo and repainting the faded lettering on the gym — went permanently sour.

From then on, says Zuno, obviously still hurt by the accusation, Webb saw him as just "part of the mix, part of the crowd that didn't care, that didn't have a plan in mind." He had been getting in trouble more and more, and his grades began to drop. In the eyes of some school staff, Zuno became precisely the sort of kid who couldn't be taught and wasn't worth the effort. To others, though, everything that was wrong with Locke was evident in the way the school failed Ivan Zuno. Simone Shah, who taught Zuno for two years and remains friendly with him, calls him "a phenomenally talented artist, ridiculously so, and an incredibly smart kid. At any other school he would have been excelling. He'd be accepted by the best art schools. At Locke he was failing."

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