Teachers and parents concerned over safety after the United States Department of Education instructs Victor Valley Union High School District to amend its disciplinary policies to ensure equal treatment of students
“The bottom line is, these kids just don’t know how to behave themselves,” Adelanto High School Janice Bedian voiced relating, “So I don’t feel safe in my classroom all the time.”
As previously reported in the San Bernardino American News, after hearing allegations of discriminatory discipline of Black students from school district employees and students, on August 12, 2014, the United States (US) Department of Education (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began investigating the Victor Valley Union High School District (VVUHSD) searching for evidence of unequal treatment in its disciplinary practices.
The complaints made by school district employees and students were substantiated by OCR and after settlement discussions, the district voluntarily agreed to a resolution with OCR and on August 16, 2022, confirming their consensus with specific principles to create a safe, nondiscriminatory school environment, and adhere to the terms of the agreement.
As part of their agreement, VVUHSD is required to change its disciplinary policies to ensure when students are disciplined, they are treated equally.
At its September 1, 2022, meeting, the VVUHSD Board of Trustees heard public comments from both parents and teachers concerned about school safety while asking how the district will proceed with disciplining students after being found to have been discriminating against Black students, disciplining them more often and more harshly.
Concerns and a plea for help was heard from Lakeview Leadership Academy Teacher Kellee Kugies regarding large class sizes, its adverse effect upon classroom structure, discipline, and school culture as well as being a violation of their contract, and creating an imbalance between middle and high school teachers.
Following the COVID lockdown, Kugies shared rules were lax at Lakeview at a time when clear guidelines were severely needed, this diminished the school environment, and now students are not listening to teachers trying to enforce the rules, substantial increases in class sizes exacerbate the disorder, and teachers are strained.
Victor Valley Teacher’s Association 1st Vice President Jennifer Lovelace reported student enrollment is at its highest at 2,230 students, and with 23 teachers, excessive class sizes are obstructing the teacher’s ability to effectively teach, characterizing the situation as not manageable and a grievance had been filed.
At its October 6, 2022, student services director Michael Williford provided the VVUHSD Board of Trustees meeting, with a presentation spelling out what the US Department of Education, Office of the Civil Rights determined and what the district is required to accomplish to comply with the resolution the district reached with the US ED.
Williford showed graphics illustrating the number of students enrolled in the district, and the number of students suspended by race, White, Hispanic, and Black, during school year 2018-19, looking at percentages by race of enrollment compared to suspensions, which the US Department of Education found were not proportional.
Williford acknowledged that during school year 2018-19, Black students had a coin flip chance of being suspended, explaining that is what the Office of Civil Rights found disproportional.
After questions by VVUHSD board members, Williford responded that the OCR also found VVUHSD disciplined Black students more severely.
Williford explained after OCR instructed VVUHSD to stop suspensions for truant students, the district stopped the practice, reasoning that disciplining a student with an unauthorized absence by excluding them from classes, was not an effective way to correct student behavior.
Williford pointed to education code changes, and OCR’s findings resulting in the revision of its disciplinary policies, brought new disciplinary policies using restorative justice measures, trauma informed practices, social emotional learning, and schoolwide positive behavior, interventions and support to help pupils gain critical social emotional skills, transformed trauma-related responses, and helping the student comprehend how their actions impact others, and developing meaningful ways the student could repair the damage to the school community.
In prior years, the district failed to track students referred for discipline resulting in inaccurate data, Williford shared, in response, VVUHSD has developed a uniform referral procedure to assure future data would be accurate, which the district can use to make educated decisions.
Williford claimed current data showed a decrease in discipline referrals, interpreting the data as demonstrating VVUHSD’s improved interventions were working, while confirming six assaults of staff members raised alarm during VVUHSD’s 2021/2022 school year.
Of the 15 years she has been a teacher at Hook Junior High, Teacher Cynthia Meade told the VVUHSD Board of Trustees at its November 7, 2022, meeting, “This is probably the most challenging in terms of safety at our school.”
“We’ve had numerous fights almost daily,” Meade declared. We don’t have enough security on campus, Meade warned, expressing her concern for the safety of teachers and students while navigating this new world.
The students don’t have any social norms yet, don’t settle down, yell at her, and refuse to put things away, Adelanto High School Teacher Janice Bedian voiced explaining her daily apprehension of her tenth-grade classes, fourth and sixth period, and sharing that she is frightened not knowing what to do, because she can’t respond to the behavior as she could in the past.
Inspired by a TikTok challenge, the students were throwing pencils and pens at me today, Bedian related finding that the kids don’t know how to behave. “So, I don’t feel safe in my classroom all the time,” Bedian declared.
Bedian told the board that she was asking for help and guidance, asking where was her safety and confidence, and that she would love to install a camera in her classroom, but it was prohibited due to student confidentiality.
Dr. Saniyyah Mayo, a therapist, and sister of a parent with three children attending schools at VVUHSD who have experienced violence on campus told the VVUHSD Board of Trustees at its January 12, 2023, meeting, that she was there to address the violence at the schools explaining that two of her nieces were removed last year from Lakeview Leadership Academy due to violence and this year her other niece has been jumped three times.
The Lakeview Leadership Academy Principal explained he could not ensure her nieces’ safety and suggested her sister remove them from on campus classes, instructing her to instead home school her children, which is not beneficial, Dr. Mayo objected.
This is happening on your grounds, on your watch, and we can blame it on the parents, say it’s their responsibility, and it is but, Dr. Mayo voiced, it’s also the community’s responsibility to make sure the students are receiving an education in a safe environment, the violence has to be addressed. Dr. Mayo pressed the district share how it is addressing violence on campus, while recognizing we can’t demonize these kids.
Dr. Mayo expressed her hope VVUHSD will hire the proper professionals and put programs in place, hiring mental health professionals knowledgeable with the culture of the students they are counseling, that the students lack emotional judgment, and effective communication skills, that they need to learn those skills, otherwise there is aggression, and fighting.
“My daughter, since school began, was jumped three times,” parent Shawntae Smith Bridges informed the board, explaining she did not want her daughter in independent studies, that she wishes her daughter to experience all the benefits of high school, in a safe environment.
Smith Bridges questioned VVUHSD’s administration asking what is the district doing as far as consequences for these kids?