The Fresno Teachers Association – and some Fresno Unified school board members – are demanding stricter discipline for students, pointing to acts of violence in the classroom.
In recent months, several teachers and administrators have been injured stopping fights among students, including a vice principal at Tenaya Middle School who broke her ankle trying to intervene in a fight last week. Tish Rice, president of the FTA, led a news conference outside Bullard High School on Wednesday and pointed to other violent acts, including a student who fired a BB gun during class at Slater Elementary and a Sunnyside High student caught with an 8-inch blade.
“Our educators are crying out for help and should not have to wait any longer for the district to create an environment free of violence,” Rice said. “The issue is a directive coming from district leadership to get expulsions and suspensions down because there’s this comparison and competition (among schools). So now folks are chasing after metrics instead of dealing with the root causes of the behaviors.”
Rice and fellow teachers joined Fresno Unified trustees Carol Mills and Brooke Ashjian to call for a more consistent discipline policy and an expansion of alternative schools that focus on providing psychological support and behavioral intervention. They are also calling for more psychologists and social workers in schools.
Quite frankly, the superintendent needs to get off of airplanes and get back into the classrooms.
Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian
Mills pointed to sites like Phoenix Academy, where Fresno Unified students with behavioral issues are often sent – but the space at those sites is limited.
“This is about giving the student the support and the help they need in whatever setting works best, and if it can’t be accomplished at the school site, then it needs to be done at an alternative site like Phoenix,” Mills said. “You can artificially deflate suspensions and expulsions, but the key is whether the behaviors are being addressed so that the students get the intervention they need.”
Expulsions in Fresno Unified in 2013-14 were down nearly 60 percent compared to the 2011-12 school year, and suspensions have also dramatically decreased. But teachers say that’s because of pressure from administrators to drive down the numbers, and that students aren’t actually getting the help they need – especially repeat offenders.
District officials said they have not relaxed any standards for student conduct.
“We continue to hold our students accountable for inappropriate behavior and provide them the additional supports they need to improve moving forward,” said FUSD spokesman Jed Chernabaeff.
He said the district has spent $5 million in the past three years on programs to help troubled students. Suspensions and expulsions have gone down accordingly, he said.
Both Mills and Ashjian criticized the district’s use of the Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s school finance system passed in 2013 that gives districts more authority over how money is spent. They say discipline and student safety are not adequately addressed in that budget, despite the community’s call for help in those areas. Ashjian pointed to an announcement earlier this month that Fresno Unified will invest millions more in English learners, including a focus on teaching Hmong in schools.
Our educators are crying out for help.
Fresno Teachers Association President Tish Rice
“They’re not listening to the LCFF. When I went to the (Local Control Accountability Plan) meeting here at Bullard, nobody said, ‘Hey Mr. Ashjian, I gotta have Hmong in my school.’ What they said was, ‘I want more psychologists, teachers, discipline. I want it to be safe.’ I love the Hmong people. I have them as friends. I’ve got them as employees. I’ve got them as neighbors. I go to church with them. I love them. But give me a school psychologist.”
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson is supposed to ensure that discipline policies are consistently enforced across schools, but that’s not happening, Ashjian said.
“Quite frankly, the superintendent needs to get off of airplanes and get back into the classrooms,” he said. “In the past, we’ve been able to cover the sins of inefficiency with a checkbook. No more. We’ve got teachers that are really upset and kids that can’t learn because of a few, and that’s got to change.”
The proposals have not yet been placed on a school board agenda.