TUSD Meltdown Continues, Staff, Students At Risk

This week, the TUSD Whistleblowers released another letter in which they call into question Dr. H.T. Sanchez’s “directive to site administrators, which is that they are NOT to discipline students for “low-level” incidences and they are to decrease the suspension days for students for higher level violations, and particularly, they are NOT to discipline Hispanic and African American kids, or, to at least lesson discipline for them.”

The Whistleblowers claim that Sanchez’s directive, delivered by Abel Morado, Interim Deputy Superintendent, has caused eruptions in discipline problems at Palo Verde, Pueblo, Secrist, Booth Fickett, Soleng Tom and other TUSD schools.

As evidence of the claims, this week a staff member at Secrist sent a letter to Sanchez outlining the dangerous situation at the school site along with his letter of resignation:

It would take too long to tell you everything I’ve witnessed at Secrist so I’ll simply provide a few examples:

• A 6th grade student who was sent to ISI for 5 days for fighting was paper arrested for the same offense just 2 weeks later, after which he was sent to ISI for another 5 days. Within a week he did the same thing again, pulling yet another poor soul into his vortex of anger. This particular student’s record of aggression and physical violence dates back to the student’s time in elementary school.

• An 8th grade girl was sent to ISI for 3 days for hitting another student in the head with a shelf. When I looked into her record there were verbal threats of shooting students. After 3 days of working with her and seeing a marked change in her attitude and actions she was back to ISI 3 days in a row for getting thrown out of various classes.

• 5 students started a small fire in the cafeteria. They were sent to ISI for 3 days with very little marked change in behavior since. (By the way, isn’t arson a level 5 offense?)

• One boy’s parents have been contacted at least 11 times by phone by teachers and administrators since the beginning of the school year. That notwithstanding the student’s misbehavior has been ongoing and escalating with at least 5 incidents/interventions (see Mohave) from August up to the present.

• One particular student who had just spent approximately 100 days out of school due to disorderly contact, assault and sexual harassment with contact, threatened two teachers with violence before he was sent to ISI yet again. It wasn’t too long before he threatened me as well. What’s most troubling—and this is what I’ve heard from a very good source—is that this student was recently arrested along with another Secrist student for breaking and entering a corrections officer’s home and stealing guns. From what I know both boys are in juvenile detention as of this writing.

• Aggressive, intimidating, bullying, sexist, racist and foul language is not the exception at Secrist but the norm.

• I was told by a staff member that the grade 8 language arts teacher who recently left the school was the tenth teacher for that particular class just this school year!

The educator concluded, “I enjoyed my time at Secrist and made many inroads with students and teachers alike. In fact many students, (including a few named above), came to the ISI classroom so they could do their work. There wasn’t a day that went by where students didn’t knock on my door and ask if they could come in. It saddened me to see that many of the students, who I’d worked with ISI, when back into the population, would succumb to the same misbehavior because of the environment they were trying to survive in. My methods of keeping order in ISI, which were definitely strict focused mostly on behavior, were at the same time freeing. “Without discipline there is no learning.” What’s more, by and large I had student buy in and, like most of the students I’ve taught over the years, those at Secrist are just as willing to learn as any others provided they have a non-threatening environment to do so in. I did the best I could with what I had where I was and felt in the end outmatched. I had many ideas to help Secrist—not all of which are good–but at least I had them. I hope that my actions of leaving campus in no way hurt anyone. Furthermore, I speak only for myself and not for anyone else regarding this issue……”

Earlier this month, the principal at Booth Fickett announced his retirement and cited the lax discipline policy as his impetus. Unfortunately for the Booth Fickett students, the principal only openly discussed his concerns after the mother and children had. Despite his delayed response, the principal was not exempt from Dr. Sanchez’s bullying and wad advised that his resignation was being accepted immediately.

In their latest missive the Whistleblowers write in part:

Any review of current discipline numbers, will falsely indicate that some of our schools look like they have improved in our suspension rates. On paper for some schools it looks like African American and Hispanic kids are not being suspended at the disproportionate rate that has been an ongoing problem for TUSD. But the truth is that behaviors are just being ignored to make the District look as though it has intervened on behaviors by training administrators and teachers on discipline strategies. There has been NO intervention. Any training that has taken place has been sloppy and splotchy. There are schools which have barely had any training and others which have had NO training. There are more teachers who have NOT been trained than those who have been trained. (We do not count any “computer” discipline training as real training.) Directing principals to ignore low level infractions and to minimize disciplinary action for minority students is dishonest and dangerous and it is not what the Court ordered. Sanchez is imposing a very self-serving type of bigotry. It is a layer that does not need to be added to the already existing biases that TUSD continues to support. We suspect that the plaintiffs, the Special Master and the Court would be furious if they knew the truth.

As site administrators, with great shame, most of us will admit that we have made every effort to comply with HT Sanchez’ under-the-table directives, for fear of otherwise being fired, but it is obvious that our schools have started to erupt, which we all knew would happen. We honestly thought that the Board majority would stop the madness since the safety of children is now at stake. The Board majority has ignored this problem just like they have ignored every problem that has been reported to them. They have remained mute on the issue. Now, we, as individual principals, are being blamed for following HT’s warped and whispered directives. We are the fall guys as each school begins to explode with discipline problems.

Betts Putnam Hidalgo, candidate for the TUSD Governing Board stated on Wednesday, “It is unfortunate that fulfilling the requirements of the Unitary Status Plan are not simply Normal Operating Procedures at this point. It is hard to believe that there is any political will to see this District come out from under the desegregation order when so many directives are subverted and so many efforts are derailed by bad faith efforts on the part of the District. There has been no policy change (since the writing of the 2015/16 General Student Rights and Responsibilities ) and what we are seeing these days is a different interpretation of an already existing policy. However, a quick check of the policy, and of the Unitary Status Plan will show that in fact this directive is not backed up in District policy. The TUSD Governing Board should do its job, and protest precisely this type of administrative over-reach. When punitive consequences are applied to the “messengers” that are delivering data, the District runs the risk of completely destroying the credibility of any data gathered. This would be tragic indeed.”

Long-time educator Rich Kronberg stated, “Dr. Sanchez must never have taught in an actual classroom. If he had classroom experience he would know that ALL students must be held to the same discipline standards. Setting different standards for students based on race and or ethnicity is a recipe for disruptive behaviors. This does not mean that all students should be treated the same, as if they were interchangeable widgets. Part of the skillset good teachers must have is the ability to hold all students to the same standards while recognizing that each student is an individual and has a right to be treated as such.”

“Every bit of research says that providing students with a safe and secure classroom environment is the sine qua non, the prime essential ingredient, for learning to take place. If students are afraid or nervous because they do not perceive their classrooms are safe they will not learn anywhere near their potential. The main consequences of Sanchez’s directives will be further loss of discipline in TUSD classrooms, far more families feeling their children will not be safe in TUSD classrooms, and more families moving their children out of TUSD schools into charters or neighboring districts,” continued Kronberg.

Kronberg concluded, “The bottom line is that Sanchez will continue to get knee jerk support from the unholy trinity of Grijalva, Foster and Juarez. This year, voters will have an opportunity remove two of these three venal and incomprehensibly ignorant Board members. If they fail to do so, there will be no reason for Sanchez to either leave TUSD or change his awful superintendency.”

The Whistleblowers have called for an investigation “by an external source for numerous and very clear reasons, the most important of which is student safety.” They conclude, “Kids and teachers do not feel safe.”