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Hundreds Of Teachers Protest Board Of Education Meeting Over Lack Of Student Discipline By Administration!

13 February 2018 Breaking News, Education No Comment

Ohio.com

By Theresa Cotom

Posted February 10th 2018

 

A dispute over student discipline and contract wording between the Akron Board of Education and teachers union heated up Monday when hundreds of teachers gathered outside the administration building in protest before the regular board meeting.

Teachers lined Broadway outside the Sylvester Small Administration Building an hour before Monday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting to raise their voices about what they say is an increase in classroom assaults with improper disciplinary action taken by administration.

People chanted and held up signs as cars and buses driving down Broadway blasted their horns in support of teachers.

“[The district] is not following our contract,” said Sherri Nank, a second-grade teacher at Harris-Jackson who was protesting with her husband, Brian, who is a retired teacher from the district. “We want the classroom safe for the students, for the teachers and for the community.”

Teachers and counselors have filed 22 grievances this school year over the way the district has handled disciplinary action for students who assault others. Some of the grievances were filed by multiple teachers, and some teachers filed more than one grievance.

When students commit verbal or physical assault, their teacher refers them to the principal, who collects statements from the people involved and any witnesses. Then, if the principal decides further action is needed, students are sent to a due process hearing before the superintendent’s designated impartial hearing officer.

In the contract, confirmed assaults call for a recommendation for suspension or expulsion and a mandatory transfer to another building. The union contends that the district has violated its end of the contract by sending kids who were disciplined back to the school they came from instead of a different school in the district, said Pat Shipe, the president of the Akron Education Association teachers union.

But Superintendent David James said that “verbal assault” is widely defined in the contract, and not all cases necessarily call for building reassignment.

The district also has been under fire the past few years over its high suspension and expulsion rates, especially involving African-American males. In 2009, the district’s suspension rate peaked, making it the highest of all 612 districts in the state. It has since dropped to eighth in the state thanks to a concerted effort to refocus disciplinary effort on “restorative justice” and positive behavioral supports instead of kicking kids out of school.

Adding up assaults

Mark Williamson, a spokesperson for the district, said 69 verbal assaults and 45 physical assaults have been reported this school year. There were 90 verbal assaults and 128 physical assaults reported in the 2016-2017 school year, which is an increase from the 195 total assaults reported the year before.

“The 114 students referred to the Board of Education for verbal and physical assaults so far this year represent a little over half of 1 percent of our total student body,” Williamson said. “Of these 114 students, our hearing officer found that 14 did not rise to the level of a verbal or physical assault.”

The grievances filed by teachers this school year stem from incidents ranging in severity, from one teacher being body-slammed by a student to others that Rhonda Porter, who serves as the general counsel for the district, calls “embarrassing.”

Porter outlined a few of the incidents, including one in which Kenmore-Garfield teacher Ernie Dontis was unsatisfied with the way administration handled a situation in September where a 14-year-old student was asked to leave the room after being disruptive. As the student left, he waved a banana, pointed it at the teacher and said, “Gray pants, green shirt, pop pop pop.” The teacher was wearing a green shirt and gray pants.

Dontis recommended that the student be assigned to another school, but the hearing officer determined the banana did not meet the definition of a weapon that could cause injury, and the student returned to the school.

“These are just really so petty that it’s embarrassing,” Porter said Monday before the meeting. “What the union wants is for us to treat the kid with the banana the same as the kid with the real gun.”

But for Dontis, who took part in Monday’s protest, the threat of the sentiment was clear, and the district making light of the problem is just another way of diverting it.

“These guys are stuck with ostrich syndrome … They put their heads in the sand to avoid the problems,” Dontis said.

Strike in 1989

Shipe addressed the board during the meeting, stating that since teachers went on strike in 1989 to protest classroom assaults, union members went decades without filing a single assault grievance.

Dontis said teachers won’t be able to go on strike again because of current language in the contract, and Shipe said “no results have come” even after years of talking with the district about disciplinary actions.

But a newly formed committee could be the start of a new conversation.

Board President Patrick Bravo, who moved through and talked to the crowd of protesters before the meeting, announced in January that the board is putting together an ad hoc committee to examine the way the district handles discipline and suspension. Although it won’t address the teachers’ grievances, he said, it will address the root of the problem moving forward.

“We’ve been looking for a way to work with the AEA in a positive way to move forward on these issues,” Bravo said. “I want them to know that I’m here and listening, and I look forward to having that conversation.”

Seventeen applicants remain to compete for Akron school board seat to replace John Otterman.

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