Dr. Rene Pryor and S.E. Williams
My name is Anita Rene Scott, and I am a domestic violence survivor,” she told an attentive audience during a symposium on the impact of domestic violence at the Norman Feldheym Library in the City of San Bernardino last Thursday.
A middle school counselor at the Paakuma’ K-8 School in San Bernardino, Scott was arrested and charged with bringing a fire arm to school in mid-September. It is important to point out, Scott did not actually bring the gun into the school building, it remained locked in her car, parked in the on-campus parking lot.
Some domestic violence advocates have expressed concern Scott was arrested for trying to defend herself. “I was arrested for having a firearm in my vehicle but no one bothered to listen to why,” she offered. “The story is not as simple as it has been portrayed.”
Ten days before Scott was arrested, she received a text message from an ex-boyfriend. In the text, according to Scott, the boyfriend claimed to have a gun and threatened to kill her.
Understandably, Scott took her boyfriend’s threat seriously. Every day in America, according to the American Psychology Association, on average “three or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands.”
In response to her boyfriend’s threat, Scott took proactive steps to protect and defend herself. It was during this period when leaving for work one morning, she noticed her former boyfriend sitting in his car down the street from her home and realized he had been following her— an observation that heightened her anxiety.
observation that heightened her anxiety.
Scott notified school officials of the threat including the Principal, Victoria Morales; Vice Principal, Breanna York; other counsellors (at the school and district levels); as well as School Chief of Police, Joe Paulino. She was also in the process of obtaining a restraining order and placed a firearm in her car for protection.
Scott took the added step of confiding in a fellow teacher, Debra Elliott. Scottt made Elliott aware she was a victim of domestic violence and shared her life had been threatened. Purportedly, Elliott did not or could not honor Scott’s confidence and advised the administration of the probability Scott may have had a gun in her car— this led to Scott’s arrest. “Our educational system does not have adequate systems for protecting the victims of domestic violence,” Scott told those in attendance on Thursday.
Scott also confessed to the audience that she did not realize keeping a gun in her car while parked on campus was against the law. “I just thought you couldn’t have it in the school building,” she admitted.
In March 2013, a proposal that would have allowed victims of domestic violence to carry a concealed weapon onto school campuses to protect themselves from their abusers was rejected by a committee in the state Assembly. The law would have provided a special exception to an existing law that makes it illegal to bring concealed weapons or ammunition onto campuses without pre-authorization from school officials.
Later that same year, in October 2013, the California legislature did pass a bill, SB400, the Employment Protections: Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking Act, that made it illegal for victims of domestic violence to be fired due to security concerns after a San Diego teacher, who was herself a victim of domestic violence, was fired for that very reason.
Some continue to wonder, ‘If California can pass laws to protect the jobs of teachers who are victims of domestic abuse, why can’t it pass laws to protect the lives of those teachers while they are at work?’ Others claim it already has. When California’s SB400, was passed in 2013, it also “required the employer to provide reasonable accommodations that may include the implementation of safety measures or procedures for a victim of domestic violence.” As defined, reasonable accommodations/ safety measures can include a transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, changed work telephone, changed work station, installed lock, an implemented safety procedure, or another adjustment to a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement, in response to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or referral to a victim assistance organization.
It does not appear such steps were taken by school officials in Scott’s case. The Voice/Black Voice News reached out to the school Principal Morales and although she did not provide any information regarding what, if any, immediate safety measures were taken and/ or reasonable accommodations made, she said, “When Ms. Scott notified the District of her concerns we gave a prompt response and reminded her of all of the resources she has access to and encouraged her to get a restraining order.”
Morales continued, “San Bernardino City Unified School District employees have access to free counseling through our employee assistance plan and counseling services are also part of the employee benefit packets.” Also, according to Morales, employees are reminded of these services on an annual basis during the open enrollment period. She concluded, “Every school and office has posters with hotline numbers for domestic violence.”
As a domestic violence survivor, Scott’s anxiety over the threat was unquestionably warranted. The data speaks for itself. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, between 1997 and 2009, 321 women and 38 men were victims of on-the-job homicide by a spouse, former spouse or dating partner. In addition, Huffington Post reported in April that nearly 33 percent of women killed at work in America between 2003 and 2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner.
Scott’s story brought to mind the tragic fate of another local victim of domestic violence recently murdered in the workplace, her name was Karen Smith. Smith, a San Bernardino Unified School District teacher, was gunned down in her classroom at North Park Elementary School on April 10th. Sadly, Smith was not the only victim that spring day. Her estranged husband, Cedric Anderson, also murdered eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez and injured nine-year-old Nolan Brandy before taking his own life. Sadly, both students were inadvertently in Anderson’s line of fire.
Employees typically spend more waking hours at work than at home; and yet, there are no federal laws specifically designed to protect victims of domestic violence in the workplace or that require employers to provide domestic violence leave. During the Obama era, however, there were efforts to raise awareness and provide domestic violence victims with increased protections and accommodations in the workplace.
Previous to the passage of SB400, California employers were already required to allow domestic violence victims to take job-protected time off work to obtain court orders or any other assistance related to their domestic abuse.
For more than eighteen years, Scott has served students and parents in the community as a school counsellor earning the respect of peers and those she assisted over the years. Her impact was attested to by former students and others who showed their support during Thursday’s symposium including one young mother of five children who said it was Scott’s encouragement, guidance and support that enabled her to persevere and graduate.
In September, Paulino admitted at a Paakuma’ parent meeting that he did not believe Scott presented a danger to the campus.
Regardless of Paulino’s sentiments, Scott is now engaged in an epic and worthy battle. It is a battle far too many women (and some men) have found themselves in over the years. She is fighting for her career, her reputation and most importantly, her life.
Scott is navigating through this professional and personal storm with the invaluable guidance and support of Heather Stevning, Executive Director and Gloria Amaya, Program Director of San Bernardino County’s Option House, Inc.
Established in 1977, for more than 40 years the Option House has provided domestic violence services and offered a broad-base of tools, training and other services focused on the prevention of abuse of women and children in the community.
On her part, Scott has long been an advocate for victims of domestic violence. Having launched her own advocacy organization, Women Healing and Teaching (WHAT), before the arrest occurred, she was in the process of fine-tuning and formalizing the organization’s nonprofit status.
The Voice/Black Voice News will continue to follow this story.