Fresno Unified teachers demand stricter discipline

Fresno Unified teachers are demanding stricter discipline policies and increased campus safety, saying classrooms have become dangerous because student misconduct is often ignored.

A petition signed by Bullard High School teachers asks Fresno Unified leaders to implement a consistent discipline policy that lays out clear consequences for offenses, pushing the district to step up its current policy, which focuses on more positive alternatives to misbehavior in order to lower the numbers of suspensions and expulsions. Similar petitions have been signed by teachers at Ahwahnee, Tioga, Tehipite and Fort Miller middle schools in recent months.

“We can no longer remain silent. We are concerned about the safety of our school site and the well-being of our students. When safety and discipline issues begin to affect the classroom, it’s time for a change,” the Bullard petition, signed by teachers on Monday, reads.

“Our students deserve a safe environment where they can give their best in order to reach their full potential. But we can’t expect our students to feel safe if teachers don’t feel safe. And the truth is, many Bullard teachers no longer feel safe. Recent events have forced Bullard teachers to face this stark reality and to ask hard questions about why this is happening and what can be done.”

According to a survey taken by more than 80 Bullard teachers last week, an overwhelming majority said they have concerns about how disciplinary issues are handled and that security and discipline problems have increased over the years. About one-third of the teachers surveyed said they have had students removed from class for violent offenses, only to see those students return to the classroom the following day. Teachers also say they are not notified, per state law, when students with a history of violence are placed in their class.

The petition comes after a string of student-teacher altercations at the school. Last month, a student allegedly assaulted teacher Roy Verduzco when he tried to break up a fight between her and another student. He was sent to the hospital for high blood pressure. Last week, another teacher was allegedly assaulted by a student and has since taken time off, according to Bullard teacher Scott Hatfield, who has been leading the petition efforts. The teacher was encouraged not to press charges or speak out about the incident, according to Hatfield.

“These issues have been raised multiple times for about four years in a row. The administration listens and nods their heads, but there’s never any action,” Hatfield said. “We don’t think we’ll see meaningful reform unless we show some unity.”

Bullard teachers plan to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the issues.

Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias said the district recently spent $3.4 million on safety and security improvements at all high schools and middle schools, and also is adding additional police officers and police chaplains, resulting in a “uniform presence” at every campus in the district.

“Fresno Unified is committed to providing a safe learning environment at all of our schools. We will continue to take appropriate student disciplinary actions,” Arias said. “We continue investing in professional learning opportunities for staff specifically to strengthen campus climate and improve learning conditions for all students.”

Efforts at Ahwahnee and Tehipite schools began in October, when teachers called for more support in dealing with regularly occurring behavioral problems. In a petition, Ahwahnee teachers asked for more resources, including radios in each classroom “so that we can report threatening behaviors immediately.” Tehipite teachers said “the current disciplinary environment is not ensuring that students and adults have a safe space in which to learn.”

In November, Tioga Middle teachers also called administrators to action, saying more than 25 student fights had happened this school year.

“There have been several incidents where staff has been physically hurt and threatened,” the Tioga petition states. “The Tioga staff is afraid that these problems will reverse the gains we’ve made, and continue to get worse.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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