Chandler District Retaliates For Exposure Of Chaos, Carelessness

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Teacher wearing t-shirt with political message “State48.”

The State of Arizona has strict rules regarding who may or may not control a classroom in order to protect our most precious resource. Those rules are vital to ensuring that our kids are only exposed to the most professional behavior by our educators.

As a result, only AZ State Certified Substitute Teachers or AZ State Certified Publicly Paid Teacher/employees may take over a classroom of children when their Contracted Certified Teacher, is absent.  In the eyes of the state of Arizona and state law, there is no distinction between a Certified, Contracted Teacher and a Certified, Contracted Substitute Teacher. According to the AZSBA, the definition of a “teacher” is defined as such:

– Any person eligible to be included as a teacher on a district’s FTE count submitted with its annual financial report, whose salary was paid under function code 1000 (Instruction)

• Statutory Definition in A.R.S. 15-901(B)(5) – “Certified teacher” means a person who is certified as a teacher pursuant to the rules adopted by the state board of education, who renders direct and personal services to schoolchildren in the form of instruction related to the school district’s educational course of study and who is paid from the maintenance and operation section of the budget.

• Classroom Site Fund Definition A.G. Opinion I01-014 -“teacher” not limited to traditional classroom teachers. “School districts and charter schools may use such funds for compensation increases for certified or certificated teachers and others employed to provide instruction to students related to the school’s educational mission.” An employee who receives base compensation from Prop. 301 monies would also be eligible to receive a salary increase as a teacher. It should be noted, however, that subsequent court rulings and attorney general opinions have narrowed this definition to those possessing a teaching certificate and who spend at least 50% of their time devoted to instruction central to the school’s educational mission. (Reeves v. Barlow, A.G. Opinion I13-005)

Often, a substitute will get an automated phone call just minutes before school begins.  This early morning on Tuesday, September 4, 2018, I accepted a teaching job for Chandler High School as a Paraprofessional. A Paraprofessional educator, alternatively known as a para, para-pro, paraeducator, instructional assistant, educational assistant, teacher’s aide or classroom assistant, is a teaching-related position within a school generally responsible for specialized or concentrated assistance of students in elementary and secondary schools. These are hourly wage, publicly paid employees.

I arrive to find neither the office nor Para had documentation to assist me; no rosters, lesson plans, directions, map of the school, teacher schedule, school schedule, room numbers or any information regarding this day. This is unusual so I sought out help and found a helpful office staff person who then called the teacher. I am directed to a binder with all Para schedules, find this teacher’s name and head to first period.

On the way to first period, I pass a teacher standing in his classroom doorway wearing jeans and a #RedForEd/ red “State48” t-shirt. I saw a few other teachers or aides dressed the same on campus. I had been aware the AEA (Arizona Educators’ Association) was promoting all teachers to wear their red t-shirts on Tuesday, Sept. 4. As a Certified Substitute Teacher, we have all been warned through the online automated sub system, we are to dress professionally and only wear jeans on Fridays (pic attached) so I felt astonished to see most teachers wearing unprofessional clothing.

When I enter the 11th grade American History classroom, the students are yelling, running around the room, and one male student was tossing a soccer ball into the air, repeatedly. I approach the teacher and introduce myself, telling her I am subbing for her Para. She is wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans. She looks at me and says, “Who?” She has to shout due to the noise in the room. I repeat her Para’s name and she says, “I don’t know who that is!” I say, “Your Para? Apparently there are students in this room who need her to help them?” She says, “Oh! Yes. My Para.”

The bell rings and the teacher is immediately distracted by a student, who asks her why there was not a teacher walk-in this morning. As I walk to a side table, I hear her speaking quite loudly and emphatically how she is so angry there was no walk in and how angry she is there has not been another walk-out, yet. She tells this student loudly about how poor she is and how the students should get behind the teachers and stage their own walk-out. Meanwhile, this poor child stands there, saying nothing, and is clearly uncomfortable. She finishes her tirade as the child backs away from her.

We are now 5 minutes into class and she is distracted with the full table (3) of students in the back of her room, grading/sorting papers and one student throwing a soccer ball into the air. This ball is bouncing on the ceiling and floor and even bounces off some students’ heads and desks. She does not stop him and he walks out of class. She now shouts to the class that she is taking attendance and will start CNN in a minute. The students are socializing, on their phones, wandering in and out of class and in general, doing nothing. We are now 10 minutes into class, announcements are over and the kids are still loud. The teacher starts the projector and puts on a show called “CNN10.”

CNN plays and the students are still talking to each other or on their phones. The reporter starts a story about the recent Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, stating he is Trump’s choice but very few Republicans want to choose him. They flash scenes of protesters holding rainbow flags, an angry face Trump is making, protesters holding up signs that state “I Love Teachers,” and then pictures of former President Obama smiling and hugging people. The reporter states how this is all about politics and the general public worries about the future of our country with a Kavanaugh appointment.

CNN10 ends just as the soccer ball kid returns to class, still throwing his ball into the air repeatedly. The teacher chats with him for a few minutes and turns off the projector. The kid leaves again. It is now 8:00 a.m., and the students haven’t opened their backpacks or done any classwork. The teacher now stands in the middle of the classroom and talks over the chatting students, “Get out your Constitution packets and keep working. Did any of you work on it last night? I bet you didn’t. I figured none of you would work on it so I’m not surprised.” She walks away and I am able to ask her which students I should be helping. She says, “Um, I don’t know just ones who have modified packets” She walks away from me and tells the kids to use Google on their phones or Wikipedia to find the answers. She points to some pocket Constitutions on the table and dismissively says they could use them if they like. Most students opt for their phones and start working a bit. Most are still socializing and never get out papers or work on anything.

I sit down to work with the one student who has a modified packet. She has a few questions regarding how to summarize one of the amendments so I leave to ask the teacher how she wants the answer worded. The teacher says to tell her to just google the question and write what it says. I head back to help this girl and she shouts, “I hate Trump!” I kneel next to her and ask why. She says, “Because he’s mean and hates Mexicans!” I’m pretty blown away by this outburst by a child but I begin to wonder what this teacher has been telling the students regarding our president and politics. I already saw her openly talk about protests and share how angry she is and hope against hope, she is not teaching her students to HATE our president. First period draws to a close and I head to my next class, which apparently is in room 1001, Payne Gym.

As I open the classroom door, the teacher is coming out with the entire class behind him. He is wearing jeans and a blue sport shirt. Surprised, I ask him if I should go with the class, wherever he is taking them. He says, “They need a walk and I need more coffee. I walk them to refill my tumbler all the time”. He says I can sit in the room and wait for them to return. Approximately 10 minutes later they all return so I immediately ask who I should help and what he wants me to do today. He just looks at me and says he doesn’t need me at all. He points to another chair and I take a seat. I am fairly unhappy with the way I’ve been treated by teachers today but cannot waste my time mulling it over.

Professional attire is not required.

I consult the post-it note I wrote this teacher’s schedule on and see the 3rd period class is by the pool. I do not know what that means but I forge forward anyway. When I finally find a classroom by the pool, the bell has rung. I open the classroom door and the teacher barks at me, “What do you want!” I tell him I’m the sub for his Para and here to help. He says, “I don’t need the help!” I ask him if I should stay in the room just in case and he turns away from me and starts talking to the class. I hear about how desperately districts need Certified Substitute Teachers but maybe if they understood how they are treated in any given day, they would understand why they cannot keep subs.

Consulting my post-it note, I see periods 4, 5, 6 are with the same teacher so I head over to her room. I had no idea it was in a severely special needs class and when I get there, she is getting ready to walk her class to the lunch room. I introduce myself and follow along. She ignores me for the most part and when we get to the cafeteria, she and I get the kids seated. I try to ask her what she wants me to do but I cannot get her attention. She is asking the students what they want to eat and then going up to the counter and ordering food. I try to help her but she says she has it all covered. Within a few minutes, she leaves and does not return. It is 11:20 a.m., and I have no idea when lunch ends. I also do not know any of these students’ names or what kind of help they require as I wasn’t told a single thing by the teacher. I am completely alone with students who are blind, in wheelchairs, shouting, wandering about, or are challenged to an extent that severely limits their functionality.

Another severely special needs class comes in for lunch so I veer over and speak with two women wearing red “State48” t-shirts and jeans. I introduce myself but they are not friendly. I ask one of the Paras if I should be opening their milk or helping them eat and she says she doesn’t know. I tell her I’ve been given no instruction and do not know any of these kids’ names and she replies, “Welcome to our world”. She starts regaling me with complaints about her pay, hours she works, “dealing” with these kids and how they have no breaks every day. She says she can never be absent because subs will not accept these jobs. I nod, smile, and walk away thinking to myself about the way I’ve been treated today and how I’ll probably never take a job like this, again. Not because of the work load but because of the lack of respect by teachers.

By now the kids are finishing their lunches and wandering about or shouting. The general student population has come pouring in as well, and they are not so kind either. One student, wearing a red “Future Teacher” #RedForEd t-shirt comes over and starts helping some of the kids. I have no idea who he is but hope he’s a student aide and can help me get these 7 children back to the room. I’m not 100% sure where the room is as I was only there for a minute.  Suddenly all of the kids get up and start following the other teachers out of the lunch room but one student cannot walk alone. He has a walker so I grab it and get him mobile. I smile and tell him, “Let’s go find Miss Tracy” He gets excited and begins moving. The rest of the class is way ahead of me and I do not know this boy’s name. All I can do is ask him if he wants to go back to class, in a sing-song voice and he is happy.

Eventually I find the classroom and the other children are in there waiting. I go in but have no idea what to do until the teacher comes back. At about 12:20 p.m., she returns but right away she takes another student to the bathroom and is gone for 20 more minutes. There is a student aide in the room and she seems to know the kids well. The kids sit in desks the entire time the teacher is gone and when she returns, she tells them they are going to study sharks. She is on her phone quite a bit but also starts the projector and searches for the video she wanted to show the kids. Between her phone and the computer, she starts the video after 10 minutes. None of the kids raise their heads to watch but they are listening. The teacher shouts out a few random questions as the video plays but overall, she’s on her phone. The video is over in 10 minutes so she puts on music from “Imagine Dragons” and the kids just sit and listen to music until 1:15 p.m.

At 1:15 p.m., the teacher bids me farewell and myself and three other student aides take the kids to the cafeteria for modified PE. I can only follow because I have no idea what to do at this point. The PE teacher is wearing a red “State48” t-shirt and jeans as well as three other Para-professionals in the room.  The PE teacher wants the kids to follow him walking in a small oval, but most of them are distracted or can barely walk. After one lap, he wants them to sit in an oval so myself and the other Paras scramble to put out chairs before the kids are in complete disarray. There are about 15 students all total with half in wheelchairs or blind. The teacher sets bowling pins in the center and kicks soccer balls toward the kids’ feet. He wants them to kick the ball toward the bowling pins but most cannot even move their feet forward. He is screaming at them, “Kick, kick, kick the ball guys!”

Suddenly one of the female students, not from my class, jumps up, grabs a bowling pin, rips a plastic ring off of it, drops it, and runs back to her seat. At first she laughs and repeatedly calls out, “It’s a bracelet!” The PE teacher walks up to her and tells her to give it to him but she holds tight. Finally, he rips it out of her hands and she cries very loudly. She jumps up again and grabs another bowling pin, plucks the plastic ring off it, and runs back to her seat. Again, she laughs but the teacher rips it out of her hands, knocking her plastic crown from her head, and she cries. She repetitively howls VERY loud and screams, “My crown!” She tries to run forward to get another pin but he blocks her so she continues to scream. I join the student aides in helping the PE teacher retrieve the kicked soccer ball and we try to help soothe this severely special needs female student, to no avail. At this point, the other students are getting upset and starting to wander about the cafeteria. The other Paras, who were chatting or on their phones, begin to move toward the commotion.

The PE teacher turns to the rest of the class and says, “Someone is a little more than spoiled!” She continues crying and her Para teachers smile but do not assist the PE teacher, as if this kind of thing happens every day. The female student repetitively yells in a high pitch tone for a long time. The PE teacher decides at 2:00 p.m., it is time to take the kids to the busses to leave for the day. I ask if they need help and he says, no, you can go. I head to the office to turn in my key and head back to the bus area to help. By now, the students are sitting in the hot busses, waiting for the bell to ring, signaling the end of the school day.

I have been an AZ State Certified Substitute Teacher in the Chandler District, without incident, for six years and am shocked by what I experienced. I had taken a few pictures of the teachers and when I get home, posted on social media the photos along with small vignettes of my day. I draft this more detailed account and email it to all 22, highly paid, contracted, publicly paid Administrators of the Chandler School District along with all 5 elected Governing Board members, and wait. Their response was to terminate my employment, without speaking to me at all. At no time was I called, emailed, or contacted in any way to resolve this issue and was simply terminated without cause.

ARS 15-203 Powers and Duties of a State Board-
Impose such disciplinary action, including the issuance of a letter of censure, suspension, suspension with conditions or revocation of a certificate, on a finding of immoral or unprofessional conduct.

Within a few hours I begin getting harassed online by CUSD teachers as well as teachers and citizens all over the valley. Tuesday night through the evening, Wednesday morning at 5:00 a.m., all day and night throughout the weekend, I continue getting called by the automated eSchools Solutions line. However, the district disabled my PIN number and I was unable to log in and find out why they were calling me. On Thursday morning I got an email stating my Substitute job for Friday, September 7, 2018, was cancelled and at 6:00 p.m. In the span of 12 hours, I was called 22 times. Calls started every morning at 5:00 a.m., and every time I tried to key in my access code and PIN, the computer generated voice would tell me it is “Invalid.” [Read substitute termination letter]

At no time did anyone with Chandler Unified School District contact me to let me know I was being deactivated or possibly fired. According to ARS 15-341, Section 21 and 22- & ARS 15-539; as a state certified, contracted, publicly paid employee, I am entitled to due process when in violation of any policy resulting in suspension or termination.

Arizona has a “whistleblower protection act” and this is not the first time I have found atrocities in the Chandler schools. Readers, be the judge in this case and ask yourself, wouldn’t you like to know someone was advocating for your child inside the schools? Wouldn’t you like to know how your severely special needs child is being treated? When someone sees and reports what is going on with your child at school, no matter who they are, wouldn’t you like to think the district would follow up and try to remedy the problem? You be the judge and in the meantime, I will not be silenced.

About Jennifer Leon Hill 5 Articles
Jennifer Leon Hill is an education activist in Arizona. She frequently shares her experience in education on the pages of the Arizona Daily Independent. Ms. Leon Hill is the founder of Teachers Parents Advocates United (TPAU).