Teachers ask for stricter student discipline
By Reggie Ellis
visalia – It might not come as a surprise to anyone that students have more trouble paying attention and concentrating in class and teachers have more trouble corralling students and their attention spans than ever before. What might surprise you is why?
Visalia teachers voiced their frustration with the lack of consequences for disruptive, and often violent, students at the May 9 meeting of the Visalia Unified School District Board meeting. Ten teachers approached the podium during public comment pleading with the Board to do more to protect the safety of district teachers, and more importantly, the other students from their physically and verbally abusive classmates.
Greg Price, president of the Visalia Unified Teachers Association, said he has received reports of teachers being hit, kicked, things thrown at them, bumped and bruised by unruly students who don’t seem to be subject to any consequences and none of which have been suspended.
“It’s become an epidemic,” Price said.
Cheryl Henry, a third grade teacher at Goshen Elementary, said she didn’t even understand the process for getting help for “out-of-control students.”
“It puts fear into the kids in my classroom,” Henry said.
Alysha Sessions, an English teacher at Valley Oak Middle School, shared stories of a student bullying and hitting other students, stealing from teachers, using profanity and who enters and exits classes as he pleases without any discipline.
“He harasses female adults on campus and he is allowed to meander about as if he is the prince of the school,” she said.
She went on to quote VUSD’s Student Conduct Code Book to the board: The Governing Board believes all students have the right to be educated in a positive learning environment free from disruptions. Students shall be expected to exhibit appropriate conduct that does not infringe on the rights of others and does not interfere with school programs while on school grounds, while going to and from school and while at school activities and while on school transportation.
“Are we meeting this promise?”
Ron Bustamante, who has more than 30 years of experience teaching in the district, said the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) point system doesn’t offer enough consequences to students to alter behavior. He suggested funding a separate “accountability classroom” at each school site where a full-time intervention counselor could “reteach expected behavior.”
Rachel Wilson, a science teacher at Divisadero Middle School, said students on her campus had set trash can fires and sold drugs to fellow students. She said one possible solution would be to eliminate caffeinated drinks, “a legal drug” that cannot be sold on campus but is allowed on campus.
Michelle Billinglsey, a third grade teacher at Hurley Elementary School, said the problems are also related to integrating special education students into mainstream classrooms. She said VUSD eliminated special needs classes with the implementation of PBIS four years ago but did not provide adequate support for teachers not trained for special education. She said she has to prepare special homework packets for six students every night and has to deal with the other students being kicked, spit on, bitten and verbally abused.
“I believe in mainstreaming special education students but I don’t believe in VUSD’s special education model,” she said. “Other students are denied rights to a safe classroom.”
Dr. Martha Franklin, a first grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary, said mainstreaming these students not only dies the opportunity for other students to learn but the special education students as well. She said they are not receiving the attention they need as her class is up to 30 students and part-time special education aids and school psychologists don’t have enough time to keep them on track either.
“He needs more than one-thirtieth of my attention and more than a half time aid,” she said.
Board members were unable to respond to the comments because the topic was not on the posted agenda for the regular meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Dr. Todd Oto, superintendent for Visalia Unified School District, said the district rolled out PBIS to teachers four years ago as part of a national shift in education to improve the learning experience for special education students and to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions. He said the special education community felt as if the traditional format of having students with disabilities separated from the general student population was “marginalizing” them and that they would be better served by having access to “mainstream” education.
This new philosophy also sought to help students who do not have disabilities but do have behavioral problems. Oto said PBIS differs from the old model of sending students to the principal’s office for negative or disruptive behavior by providing a process to correct the problem rather than creating a new one, mainly troubled teens who get kicked out of school to become societal problems rather than just a behavioral one.
“Discipline is another form of teaching,” Oto said.
Prior to the board meeting, Oto said there was a recent discussion with on-site leadership teams about PBIS and what it means for teachers in the classroom. He said
“We have to step and back and reform our way of thinking,” Oto said. “We are working on clarifying with teachers on another approach.”
Harry Buckner, who has taught 17 years at Divisadero Middle School, called the lack of discipline the “greatest impediment to student achievement.” He said more training was not the answer, as teachers already had 54 training days that each take between two and eight teachers out of the classroom for an entire day.
“There are far too many kids on campus who are not going to school,” Buckner concluded.