Teacher union survey alleges unreported violence in JPS


http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2015/05/07/teacher-union-survey-alleges-unreported-violence-jps/70939952/

Weapons at school. Assaults on teachers. Thefts. Lack of response and support from administrators.

These are a few accounts from Jackson Public Schools teachers and employees who anonymously shared their stories about working in the district in a report released Wednesday.

The report, compiled by the Jackson chapter of the Federation of Teachers union, found inconsistent reporting procedures and inadequate disciplinary actions for students who commit infractions.

Around 1,500 district personnel from over 60 schools and work sites in JPS responded to a 20-question survey. Of those, 1,021 were teachers, almost half of the teachers in the district.

At a press conference announcing the release of the report, teachers emphasized they understand the importance of keeping students in school but hope to work with district officials in coming up with policy changes and alternative measures to adequately discipline students who misbehave.

A lack of discipline has taken its toll on our district,” Kerry Doyle, a teacher at Brinkley Middle School, said at the press conference.

The report surfaces amid changes in the discipline policy at JPS, and district officials say they are soliciting support and feedback from parents and students on the code of conduct.

“The Board is continuously reviewing policy to improve and support the experiences of scholars in our District,” JPS spokesperson Sherwin Johnson said in an e-mailed statement.

The district’s code of conduct was recently altered, lessening the punishment for certain infractions, the teachers said. An alternative discipline program called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), which emphasizes the need for school staff to promote appropriate behaviors through modeling and reinforcing good behavior, was also adopted by the district in 2012.

PBIS also advocates for using “minor bisheaviors” as opportunities for “teaching moments,” according to the district’s code of conduct.

The union’s report includes personal stories from workers who shared their stories anonymously.

One such worker describes a certificate her school received boasting no suspensions for the month of November.

“Located a few feet away (from the certificate) is the classroom where, earlier, a student brought a steak knife. When questioned by his teacher about bringing his weapon to school, an offense prohibited by federal and state law, he retorted, ‘I brought it in my book bag to stab you, b—h,'” the worker described.

The student was never suspended or expelled, despite the action constituting a Class 5 infraction, the worker wrote.

A second worker shared that after seeking administrative support following discipline issues in the classroom, the worker was ignored.

“I was told it was my fault for not having stronger classroom management,” the story described.

Johnson said the district is not aware of such incidents.

“They have been no such reports presented to District officials or the superintendent after several meetings with the organization’s president, Bergie Jones,” he said.

The survey highlights the following key findings: a majority of workers feel their environment is “out of control” on a daily or weekly basis; nearly 46 percent say student discipline issues lead them to consider leaving their job; and 42 percent said they haven’t received adequate training to deal with discipline issues, among others.

In addition, nearly half of the workers feel that the alternative discipline program, PBIS, is not an appropriate intervention strategy.

The report also questions statistics Superintendent Cedrick Gray cited about suspensions being decreased by 1,000 since the previous school year.

The group says the data it requested from the district showed a total of 412 recommendations for disciplinary action in the 2013-14 school year and 170 recommendations in the 2014-2015 school year, raising questions as to how the number of incidents could have dropped by 1,000.

“It is inaccurate that the data requested or provided was inaccessible and failed to fulfill the Jackson Federation of Teacher’s request,” Johnson said, pointing out that the district made repeated attempts to contact the union organizer after reviewing the flash drive he said contained inaccessible data.

Johnson also said the suspension rates quoted by Gray were supported by data obtained through the JPS Department of Accountability and Research.

The group is calling for three school board members to work with members of the Federation of Teachers to examine the issues raised in the report. They are asking for a response from school officials by mid-month.

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