SELMA – After listening to tear-filled testimony from parents who say their children are severely depressed being bullied to the point of severe depression and even contemplating suicide, Selma Unified School District Superintendent Tanya Fisher said it’s time to take a hard look and make changes in their discipline policies.
“You have my commitment to moving forward. I know our team … wants our system to work well and our students to be safe. It broke my heart to hear something about an attempted suicide,” Fisher said at the April 9 Board meeting. “We’re actively going to take a look at our discipline policy and really take a deep dive into what we have in terms of, not just the discipline policy, but what we have currently in terms of student conduct and behavior policies.”
The SUSD Board members were united in agreeing that serious changes need to be made and consistent consequences are needed at every school in the district.
Board President Jennifer Winter said although they have student conduct policies in place, they aren’t being carried out in a uniform way.
“Obviously we have policies in place, but a lot of them aren’t carried out. It’s the consistency and a valid point was made. There is a lack of communication [between school administrators and teachers],” Winter said of one parent’s testimony during public comment.
Board members Karl Salazar and Roger Orosco added that whatever process is developed, consequences need to be meted out sooner so students who are bullying others or are having other discipline issues are removed from classrooms sooner.
“What we’re hearing from parents is they want tougher discipline,” Orosco said. “They want the kids to know that if they do something bad, they’re going to get in trouble. We need to do whatever we can do to speed it up. Maybe the laws have changed, but we need to be as tough as we can.”
Parents Marissa Cazares and Brandy Quiz shared their children’s experiences and say change is desperately needed.
Quiz said problems that started at the elementary grade level have continued on into the middle school and Board member Diane Jensen said that was especially troubling.
“What happened in that year to rehabilitate [the student] where they go back and start repeating the same behaviors? That’s my biggest concern. I want every child to be educated, but in what environment? Should we put them right back into [the school]?”
Cazares submitted a petition with more than 150 parents’ signatures asking the Board to revamp their discipline policies. She thinks the PBIS system isn’t working and wants bullies held accountable.
“There’s no accountability. These kids are doing this over and over again because you guys are allowing it. This [PBIS] policy is all you and you can change this. You have the power. You were voted in to help our kids and now you need to do what you promised you were going to do. The safety of the kids is what matters. No more counseling and no more interventions, it doesn’t work.”
A second parent, Brandy Quiz, said her child has been bullied by a group of students since elementary school and it’s continued to the middle school.
“My [child] was going to try to commit suicide. [My child] is tired of all the bullying and doesn’t feel safe at school,” Quiz said in tears. “Something needs to be done about the discipline. [Bullies] need to know the consequences of their actions and their words. It’s more hurtful than fighting. It affects you long term and in the long run.”
Board Vice President Paul Green said as a parent he wouldn’t tolerate this environment for his own children.
“My children, I had five of them, if they were there now, they’d be in another school. I would have yanked my kids. I would not put my kids in that environment that those poor kids are having to go through. We’re too buried in compliance and we’re leaving our students, our administrators and our teachers behind. This is a failure from the top to the bottom. The blame is district wide.”
Green said he’s so frustrated by the situation that he’d rather resign than remain on the board if the problem does not get addressed and resolved.
“We’ve had teachers in the last five years threatened by students and that student was back in the class the next day. That’s not acceptable. We cannot have our teachers and students being threatened and the students and the teachers know that there are no consequences to this.”
Green said schools need to change their documentation procedures to deal with discipline issues immediately. If school staff is not doing so, then he believes they need to be replaced.
“If we don’t have site administrators and district administrators that are skilled in supporting the people and students below them, we need to replace those people. We have students in this district who know there are no consequences to their behavior. We have teachers in this district that believe they have no support from the site administrator. And they believe they get no support from the district office. All of this is accurate information. For it to have to get to this point frustrates me. If we can’t fix this, I will resign from this board.”
Fisher said the first steps will be to have internal audit and get input from teachers, classified staff and administration at each school. Each school will provide information on their referrals process. Then, input will be taken from the community and parents.
“We want to find out what’s working and what’s not. Then, we’ll come back to the board and say, ‘this is where we are.’ We want to do a comprehensive overview of our policies making sure that we are looking at what’s happening at each school site, because you’ve all highlighted the fact we’ve been fragmented with what we’re doing at all our schools.”
Fisher said she’s looked at the parent handbook and realizes information has been left out regarding the district’s discipline and suspension/expulsion policies. That needs to change, she said.
“I’ve already started to work on somethings we need to do relative to this book so it’s prepared when it comes out for the next school year.”
Sharing a PowerPoint of the current SUSD discipline policies at the meeting, Fisher said the rules about conduct and behavior are two different things.
“You have information on what happens when students don’t follow and comply with what the board expects. That’s the expulsion and suspension process. That relates to the discipline policy.”
As laws have changed over the years, the district is compelled to update their policies and comply with those laws, she said.
“We have to be compliant with legal aspects of providing multi-tiered systems of support and providing students with opportunities to be successful. We had to update the criteria for when we can suspend and expel students.”
Fisher said there were also legal changes made in 2014 by the United States Department of Civil Rights and Department of Justice which required SUSD to provide systems of support around disciplinary practices.
“PBIS, I think, was introduced to Selma in an effort to address the need for multi-tiered systems of support. Does our policy say we have to use PBIS? No. But we are legally required to provide systems of support to teach and provide interventions for students having academic and behavioral challenges. It’s a requirement.”
Fisher said in regards to bullying, they are also legally bound to follow the Uniform Complaint Procedures process.
“[Our bullying policy] was also updated in 2018 because of our legal requirements to make sure we have certain things in place. We have to go through a complete investigation process that mirrors the UCP complaint process.”
Fisher said while this policy change will be complicated and won’t happen overnight, it is time to tackle the issue.
“We do have expectations as to how students are to behave when they come to our schools. We do hold students and parents accountable through the suspension and expulsion process; however we have to make sure we’re providing systems of support. And that is what we’re doing. We’re going to see what’s going on and hold people accountable if it’s not happening at the school level.”
In other matters, the SUSD Board also:
- Heard an update on the Local Control Accountability Plan from Assistant Superintendent Davinder Sidhu. The LCAP details what the district’s goals are for students, the budgets behind each goal and actions taken to achieve those. Sidhu shared the district’s progress and current results in four areas. Goal 1: Students reaching proficiency in ELA, Math, Science and ELD as measured by various, local, and state assessments. Goal 2: Academic and behavioral services provided to address individual needs and to close learning gaps. Goal 3: Intensive supports to ensure students are making progress and are supported to meet individual needs. Goal 4: Enhance parent and community involvement.
- Heard an Oversite Committee update on the $30.8 million Measure O Bond. “All projects are consistent with the project list provided to voters by the SUSD Board of Trustees,” the report read. The District has issued $17.1 million in Measure O bonds in two issuances of $10.1 million in 2017 and $7 million in 2019. Approximately $13.7 million remains.
- Approved a declaration of need to hire teachers who do not yet possess the required credential when there is a shortage of qualified candidates. Substitutes who have not passed the CBEST test may also be hired as there continues to be a shortage of credential teachers and substitutes in the state.
- Approved a math teacher on special assignment position to be split between Garfield and Terry elementaries to help students improve math scores. Only 10 percent of Garfield and 13 percent of Terry’s English Learner students are meeting state math standards. New job descriptions for supervising school psychologists and speech language pathologists, scorekeepers and lifeguards were created for these positions.
- Entered into the negotiation process with the California School Employees Association Chapter #231 regarding pay and allowances, health and welfare benefits and a transportation provision.
- Accepted a donation of $200 from the Selma Girls Softball League was accepted for SHS softball, as well as another donation from the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators for $250 was accepted for a scholarship.
- Entered an MOU with the Valley Regional Occupational Program to expand their advanced manufacturing and welding program. This program also helps students with dual enrollment so they earn college credits while still in high school.