November 17, 2006

When the gifts for teacher include a condo.

A lawsuit brought by parents of a severely autistic boy:
The Lins, immigrants from Taiwan, contend that what began as gestures of goodwill common in their native country soon spiraled out of control.

According to their claim, school and district faculty coerced them into buying extravagant presents, including St. John outfits, $1,000 gift certificates from Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's, a $700 dinner at the Four Seasons hotel, $500 a month in pastries for the school, and a "priceless" jade bracelet considered a family heirloom.

[Spokesperson Lynne] Arnold said that when Liya Lin's gift-giving waned, their son's care appeared to deteriorate. School employees "started getting more aggressive with her — calling her, telling her what they wanted" for gifts, Arnold said.

Those who received gifts sent the Lins thank-you cards, a dozen of which are included in their claim. One, from Jonathan's special-education teacher, Nancy Wilson, reads: "I love the jacket and coat! Wow!!" The coat and pearl necklace "will look so wonderful together! The gift card was such a wonderful surprise! You are so amazingly generous."
I have no idea whether these claims are true, but I find it awfully hard to believe that you can be functioning on a high enough level to have the money to do this -- Lin is a pediatrician -- and still be this clueless about the norms in your community -- even if you have come from elsewhere. And how could so many teachers believe they could behave like this?

30 comments:

Dave said...

I've never heard of giving a condo as a gift to a teacher but it is pretty much de rigeur for teachers in Manhattan's tony private schools to receive $500 spa gift certificates, on a per student basis.

The Drill SGT said...

Extortion is extortion. It's particularly odious when it's done to immigrants and concerns them trying to take care of their child.

David said...

The National Education Association and various State Teacher's Associations call it:

ENTITLEMENT!

It normally shows up as a bond issue or on property tax bills. They are notable for lack of accountability in how the money is spent if approved.

Nataraj said...

It's Clinton's fault.

Balfegor said...

but I find it awfully hard to believe that you can be functioning on a high enough level to have the money to do this -- Lin is a pediatrician -- and still be this clueless about the norms in your community -- even if you have come from elsewhere.

Why? It looks like this is a public school district (Irvine Unified School District), and it's not like schoolteachers are the only incorruptible class of government worker left. Especially with the mindless bureaucracy that dominates the public schools (and especially in California's execrable public schooling system), it's pretty much a given that a parent has to have some direct line to the teachers to ensure that their children get proper care. It's probably not much of an issue for most parents down in elementary school (in middle and high school, the need to get appropriate scheduling improves the return on bribery), but this particular child is autistic, so he has special education needs they need to make sure are met.

Put simply, I don't think there's much of a conflict with Californian communal norms, other than the extraordinary scale of these gifts -- things like gift certificates, coffee & donuts from time to time, decent holiday and birthday gifts, and suchlike are more usual. Just on a continuing basis so they'll listen when you've got a problem or have a complaint. It would be nice if you could get decent public service without bribing public servants, but sometimes you just need to pay people to do their job.

It's a little like a tip.

And how could so many teachers believe they could behave like this?

This is what I'm appalled at. Expecting gifts is one thing -- demanding thousands of dollars of gifts is something quite different.

Anonymous said...

It is useful to recall that many in this line of work call themselves "tard farmers."

They've just decided to harvest additional crops, is all.

Internet Ronin said...

Unfortunately, I can easily imagine how this happened, but then I've enjoyed the friendship of dozens of people from Taiwan in my lifetime. I've seen it happen many times before, although none that I was personally aware of rose to this level.

"Clueless about the norms" within their community? Quite possible, if one is all about work and not the least bit involved. Were they? Probably not completely clueless but not entirely sure, either, which is why what probably started out as "gestures of goodwill," or, more likely, gestures designed to garner better-than-average attention for their child so easily spiraled out of control. Once they started doing this, and those accepting the gifts started demanding even more (an unexpected response, I am sure), the question became, if we stop now, will it hurt our child?

altoids1306 said...

I don't buy it. I'm from Taiwan, and we don't give out 500 USD gifts there. A normal gift would be 20-30 USD, and maybe up to 100 USD, on occasion. For the teacher's wedding or something.

Anything more than that smacks of bribery. The Lin's were trying to buy preferential treatment, and it backfired on them.

The only cultural norm they needed to get used to was that teachers in the US aren't considered paragons of civil virtue.

Internet Ronin said...

The Lin's were trying to buy preferential treatment, and it backfired on them.

Probably (as in, "Well, of course they were.")

A normal gift would be 20-30 USD, and maybe up to 100 USD, on occasion.

In Taiwan, yes. (Although $20-30 sounds pretty low to me and $ values are relative, but I'll defer to your superior knowledge in this regard - mine is a bit rusty.)

The only cultural norm they needed to get used to was that teachers in the US aren't considered paragons of civil virtue.

I'm not so sure that was the only one, but it would do for a start.

Joe Baby said...

Sounds like the story of parents who would do whatever it takes to see their child was given a great education, only to realize that they were the one being schooled.

One big positive: finally, some teachers with a sense of style! I expected the extortion to provide gift certs to Marshalls and big tabs at Bahama Breeze.

Balfegor said...

or, more likely, gestures designed to garner better-than-average attention for their child so easily spiraled out of control.

You have to remember that this is California. "Average attention," as a standard, is pathetically low, unacceptably so. There are good school districts here and there, of course, and for all I know IUSD may be one of them (I didn't go through IUSD, so I don't have direct knowledge). But by and large, Californian public schools are among the worst in the nation, if not the worst.

That said, common sense should have told these parents, at some point, that hiring a special full-time tutor would probably be cheaper than shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to public school employees. The teachers/administrators/etc. who received that kind of money should be fired and stripped of their teaching licenses, but the Lins did bring this on themselves.

Internet Ronin said...

Balfegor: I believe that IUSD is considered one of the better school districts in California.

Yes, the Lins brought this on themselves. I'm sorry if anyone thinks I approve of, or excuse, what they did, because what I wrote, in response to Ann's comment, was that I understood how they ended up in the situation. Believe me, no endorsement was implied or intended.

While I sincerely hope that every IUSD employee actively involved in this affair is terminated (and those passively involved disciplined), I doubt anyone will be. I expect the teachers' union will actively fight any disciplinary action.

Balfegor said...

I'm sorry if anyone thinks I approve of, or excuse, what they did, because what I wrote, in response to Ann's comment, was that I understood how they ended up in the situation. Believe me, no endorsement was implied or intended.

I, on the other hand, don't see anything morally wrong in what they did (as opposed to legally wrong -- I'd guess it's illegal on that scale). I'm fine with bribing teachers. Malum prohibitum, not malum in se. As far as I can see, local government services are corrupt and often only minimally competent in this country (I blame the unions). While I might wish it weren't so, one lives with the world one has, rather than the world as one wishes it to be. One can stand on principle and let one's children founder in the morass of Californian government schools, I suppose, but I'm deeply grateful my family didn't. (Though our gifts were always on a much cheaper order: around $30, as mentioned above).

The Lins were just embarassingly foolish. Tens of thousands of dollars is more than enough for a decent private school or a full-time tutor -- situations where, if you choose well, you're much less likely to suffer the indifference and neglect of the government schools. It's a waste of money to give it to government employees.

Joe Baby said...

From my quick perusal of the IUSD I didn't find anything that dealt directly with employees taking gifts or gratuities. (some clauses about the board accepting gifts on behalf of the school district, and employees should not accept gifts from future vendors, etc.)

Anyone know if there's any language in the state teacher regs?

PatCA said...

As soon as I saw the headline of he post, I guessed the story.

I have to agree with altoids and ronin. There may have been some corruption among the teachers but--I hate to even say this--I taught children of Asian immigrants and came to refuse all gifts, no matter how big or small, because there is always a quid pro quo somewhere down the line. Always. Call it gifting or bribing or culture clash, I don't know, but it was not totally gratis. I eventually left the private school because, to me, it stunk to high heaven.

Balfegor said...

From my quick perusal of the IUSD I didn't find anything that dealt directly with employees taking gifts or gratuities. (some clauses about the board accepting gifts on behalf of the school district, and employees should not accept gifts from future vendors, etc.)

I think it's actually a criminal offense. See Penal Code Sec. 67-77:

67.5. (a) Every person who gives or offers as a bribe to any ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, county or city therein, or political subdivision thereof, any thing the theft of which would be petty theft is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(b) If the theft of the thing given or offered would be grand theft the offense is a felony.


68. (a) Every executive or ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, a county or city therein, or a political subdivision thereof, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive, any bribe, upon any agreement or understanding that his or her vote, opinion, or action upon any matter then pending, or that may be brought before him or her in his or her official capacity, shall be influenced thereby, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) or not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or two thousand dollars ($2,000), whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or ten thousand dollars ($10,000), whichever is greater, and, in addition thereto, forfeits his or her office, employment, or appointment, and is forever disqualified from holding any office, employment, or appointment, in this state.

That seems to be directed against people in official decisionmaking capacities, granting licenses or whatever, but I think you could read it against educational workers too.

Balfegor said...

Wait, actually, I think the executive/ministerial is supposed to encompass the entire list, down to employees. So perhaps not.

Anon Y. Mous said...

"...for educating their now 7-year-old son, who could not speak and was not toilet-trained..."

The real outrage it that this kid is in the public school system. Public schools should be focused on the education of children who can be educated, not providing daycare for those who cannot benefit from the experience, like this unfortunate child. Placing him in the public schools does him no good at all, and harms the efforts to educate those that do belong there.

Maxine Weiss said...

"And how could so many teachers believe they could behave like this?"---Althouse

Aren't teachers the new religious icons?

They are soooo underpaid, --the sense of entitlement.

We are all supposed to worship teachers and throw endless amounts of money at them.

While test scores fall lower and lower.

----Another brick in the wall..

Love, Maxine

Zeb Quinn said...

And how could so many teachers believe they could behave like this?

There is a resentment amongst the public employee class --and I count public school teachers as a part of that class-- of people in the private sector who have six-figure-plus incomes, of people who have income levels that very few public employees have any hope of ever receiving.

Other than that observation, I likewise have no idea about the truth of the allegations.

Paddy O. said...

Am I the only one who thought of Forest Gump when I read about this? Forest's mom didn't give a condo to the school principal, but she certainly did give something. All so he could stay in a "normal" school without the stigma.

The article notes they were turned down by 15 private schools, schools which would have certainly been happy to take this child for the money if they at all could.

The public school likely couldn't either, unless there were willing teachers not only giving extra care but also signing the right forms, fudging the tests, and otherwise keeping up the appearance that this low-functioning child was able to be educated in a normal environment.

My suspicion is that these gifts were meant to perpetuate an illusion. The parents, I imagine, did not want to have a son who needed the extreme sorts of attention he did in fact need. So they bribed teachers because if their son was in a public school, he couldn't be "that bad". But he was, and so the teachers could extort the parents for more and more. It was never about care or attention or anything that a private tutor could bring. It was, I bet, all about appearances.

The biggest loser is the son, who really needs the specialized care that could help really help him.

George said...

1) In my school district, it's a given that at the end of the school year or end of a sports season, some parent will pass the hat, and everyone's supposed to pitch in, oh, say, $20 apiece to buy the teacher or coach a present.

Crazy.

2) A feature in NY magazine a few weeks ago reported that if you're the parent of an autistic child in NYC, if you sue the city, you are almost guaranteed to win tens and tens of thousands of dollars, to be used to send the child to a private school. Price tag: Tens of millions. Off topic, I know, but interesting, nonetheless.

Slac said...

I'm rooting for the Taiwanese parents! Take those teachers DOWN.

Susie said...

I'm not sure teachers in the bigger CA districts are *that* underpaid.

My college friend's dad retired as an administrator at a high school in the East Bay, but he was a history and PE teacher for most of his time there. He gets paid 90% of his old six-figure salary and full medical benefits, while he plays golf all day.

From a couple of teacher friends in LA, it's about the same deal for retired teachers. One retired LAUSD teacher that I know tangentially came out of retirement recently, so she gets two paychecks now.

I'm not against good teacher's pensions, but it's ridiculous to me that retired teachers are being paid more than many of the younger, current teachers.

SWBarns said...

Paddy O.>> This was a severely autistic, non-verbal seven year old who was not potty trained. You can diagnose these kids from across the street. There isn’t much question of “keeping up the appearance that this low-functioning child was able to be educated in a normal environment.”

The biggest fear that parents of disabled children have is that their kid will be mistreated and no one will know since the kid is non-verbal.

I vote that we give the parents a break on this. Their child was rejected by 15 private schools because of the amount of care he requires. He needs to be in a class with a 1:1 student to teacher ratio and with access to speech, physical and occupational therapies. The only reason the public schools take care of these kids is because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Until passage of IDEA these kids were warehoused. Even after 30 years it can be difficult for parents to get all the services they need for their child.

angela said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
angela said...

I'm Taiwanese-American, and when I was growing up my parents considered it important to give nice presents (nothing rising to this level) to my public school teachers during the holidays even though many of the students did not give presents, and they certainly were not expected. It wasn't to bribe them, it was a matter of showing respect, and it was to thank them for being good elders. Gift-giving is an important part of the Taiwanese culture and building relationships.

I can imagine these parents, immigrants, with heightened concern over a particularly vulnerable child's welfare, getting caught up in something like this and catching on that it's all wrong a few beats too late. The level of the gifts seems crazy to us, but in Orange County, other people's teacher gifts might be extravagant enough further to have confused the parents in this situation.

It's sad people are so ready to exploit a situation like this.

The Drill SGT said...

Internet Ronin and Theo,

This one's for you :)

http://home.comcast.net/~petsonk/SRB06b_files_files/page0002.htm

Internet Ronin said...

Thanks, Drill SGT! I may try one of those recipes one day. Getting the starter started is the trick, I guess. (That part reminds me of the Amish Friendy Bread craze.)

Auto Report World Editors said...

Zeb Quinn said...

And how could so many teachers believe they could behave like this?

There is a resentment amongst the public employee class --and I count public school teachers as a part of that class-- of people in the private sector who have six-figure-plus incomes, of people who have income levels that very few public employees have any hope of ever receiving.


Actually, the resentment that is growing is the resentment by citizens and taxpayers of public sector employees who have better benefit and pension plans than are generally available in the private sector. Public employees definitely act as though they are entitled. I've had state employees angrily deny to me that they "work for the public".

The truth is that most public school teachers are paid well. With a masters degree and 10 yrs of experience many teachers in the US are making over $50K and $60K a year. Most public school teachers make more money than physicians do as interns and residents. As someone pointed out above, public school administrators are very well paid. I doubt if there is a school district superintendent in Michigan who makes less that $100K/yr.

Also, if you consider that for most teachers, teaching is not a full-time job, the pay is outstanding. I know the teachers reading this will get outraged about the part-time stuff, but the fact is that very few experienced teachers spend much time out of class preparing lesson plans - using pretty much the same plans year to year. Tests and homework are graded by the teacher in class while the students do busy work. Even those teachers who do spend some out-of-classroom time preparing and grading are still not working full time.

A normal full-time job is 40 hrs a week, 50 weeks a year, with a couple of days off for Christmas, and maybe a couple off for Easter, plus some national holidays. The avg school day is from 8:30-3:00, which works out to 32.5 hrs a week - almost a full man-day short of a 40 hr week. Not counting so-called "in service" days, where teachers get paid for the kind of continuing education that most private sector employees pay for out of their own pockets, teachers also get about two weeks off in December and another week or two off for "spring break". And then there's summer vacation. How many private sector employees get summer vacation? So most teachers work about 32 hrs a week for 8 months out of the year.

Like I said, part-time.

And at the college level? Outside of the hard sciences I doubt there's a single college professor who puts in 40 hrs a week of teaching and research combined.

Prof. Althouse and Prof. Reynolds certainly have plenty of time for blogging.