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Picketing Teachers Call for Inglewood Principal's Ouster

February 16, 1986|MICHELE L. NORRIS | Times Staff Writer

INGLEWOOD — An ongoing dispute between a group of Inglewood High School teachers and Principal Lawrence Freeman erupted again Thursday afternoon as about 20 teachers and a small group of students picketed the school grounds to call for Freeman's removal.

Marching back and forth in front of the high school at Grevillea Avenue and Manchester Boulevard, the teachers called for the school board to investigate what they say is a prison-camp atmosphere at the school.

An opposing group of parents, students and community activists marched in support of Freeman carrying signs with slogans such as "Oh God no, don't let him go."

Among other things, the teachers accuse Freeman of stripping them of their authority, humiliating them in front of students and punishing those who speak out against him by imposing suspensions or reassignments to less desirable class schedules.

Claims Policy Justified

Freeman, however, said his administrative policy--which he called "hard-line"--is justified.

"The problem with these teachers is that they think they run the school instead of the principal," Freeman said.

"This school was a mess when I got here because the teachers were running the show and they clearly didn't know what they were doing. I'm tough because I have to be tough."

But the complaining teachers say Freeman is too tough, and last year the Public Employee Relations Board agreed. In two hearings in November, 1985, administrative law judges found Freeman guilty of eight counts of unfair labor practices, including preventing teachers from distributing materials that criticized Freeman's policies, forcing teachers to check their classroom keys at the main office before leaving the building and refusing to allow teachers to have union representatives with them during disciplinary meetings.

The Inglewood school board voted in December to appeal both decisions.

Less Vandalism

"The board appealed the decisions because we saw that he was really trying to make the school a better place to learn (in) and we would like him to continue with some of these practices, especially the key system," said Trustee Tony Draper. "We have seen a tremendous decrease in classroom vandalism and missing school supplies since he started keeping the keys in his office."

If the original rulings are upheld in a another hearing to be held sometime this year, Freeman will have to discontinue the key policy and all other policies that led to the complaints.

Teachers who picketed the school grounds Thursday said they hope the school board will investigate new charges that Freeman frequently alters class schedules with little or no warning and that he grabbed a teacher by the throat for trying to place a union newsletter in other teachers' mailboxes.

"He's a dictator," said Pamela Klein, who has been teaching French at Inglewood High School for 18 years.

"He threatens the teachers and treats the students like punks," Klein said. "That is a terrible role model for students as well as parents."

Known to Be Tough

A former Army officer, Freeman is known throughout the state for his brand of tough talking leadership and no-nonsense discipline, said Supt. Rex Fortune.

"We hired Freeman because we knew he could take even the worst school and turn it around into a place where students get a good education," Fortune said.

Freeman's office is crammed with awards he received during his nine years as principal of Compton's Willowbrook Junior High School--an inner-city school once plagued by gang violence, high truancy and the lowest reading scores in the state.

Freeman defused gang tensions there by enforcing a strict dress code that prohibited any gang-related clothing and decreased truancy by more than 50% by enforcing strict penalties for tardiness and unexcused absences, Fortune said.

Program Praised

His required daily reading breaks won praise from several state educational agencies. "Administrators from all over the state were sending their faculties to Compton to observe Freeman and his policies," said Ed Brownlee, the dean of students at Inglewood High who worked with Freeman at Compton.

Freeman, who says he can work the "same magic at Inglewood if the teachers would work with the administration instead of against it," left Willowbrook in 1983 after a state audit of school funds. Although he was never accused directly of mismanaging the funds, he was reassigned as a truancy counselor.

"I have proven that my program works," Freeman said in an interview Thursday. "The teachers who are criticizing me just don't realize what it takes to shape up a school like Inglewood High. These are some of the same teachers that were letting the kids run wild through the halls and wear curlers and jackets with gang emblems to school."

Since he was named principal of 2,376-student Inglewood High School in 1984, Freeman has implemented many of the same rules and regulations he used at Willowbrook. In many cases, however, violations carry a stiffer penalty, ranging from parent conferences to suspension.

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