Make Schools Safer

TUSD Sewell Elementary School Mark Stegeman Reading Hour

I believe that the biggest reason that TUSD loses thousands of students is that families do not believe that their children are safe from bullying or other harm, or are tired of classroom disruptions so chronic and severe that it becomes hard for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

The student behavior problems at some schools have escalated to the point that stories about specific TUSD schools have recently become newspaper or television headlines. These stories about Secrist appeared in December:

Discipline Problems at Secrist Trigger Special TUSD Task Force

2 Leaders at Troubled Secrist Removed

At a PTA meeting Secrist students read a moving letter about problems at their school.

It is important to emphasize that not every TUSD school has these problems. Other schools have similar problems but to a lesser degree.

I wrote a long letter to my mailing list, in December, describing the school climate problems and their origins in policy. Some of the problems stem from the court-ordered desegregation plan, which generally requires a progression of steps before a student can receive a detention or suspension. Other problems are created solely by TUSD’s own policies, which tie the hands of teachers and principals much tighter than the desegregation plan requires. There are also inconsistencies among TUSD’s policies and regulations, where different policies and regulations ignore or contradict each other.

Leaving aside the official policies, much indirect evidence suggests that TUSD’s administration has recently placed pressure on some schools to report fewer disciplinary incidents, to report incidents as less severe than they actually are, or to minimize disciplinary actions for reported incidents. The former principal of Booth-Fickett spoke about these issues in several interviews. He was removed from school the day after the first of these interviews.

Listen to the Interview

Many persons at the schools say that the lax disciplinary environment empowers a few students to abuse the system, knowing that consequences will be weak. This creates an environment in which not only families but teachers flee, to districts and schools that are able to maintain safer and more effective learning environments. Some teachers have left for neighboring districts, even at the cost of accepting a salary cut.

It is important for the board to restore some balance to TUSD’s disciplinary policies, within the limits allowed by the desegregation plan. No one, including the plaintiffs and the special master, wants a chaotic environment in classrooms.

It is important also for the board to state explicitly in policy its commitment to respect teachers’ statutory rights under A.R.S. 15-841. That law gives teachers the authority to remove a student who disrupts the classroom environment, subject to later review of whether the student should be returned to the classroom.

See list of KGUN 9 News Stories – TUSD School Safety