By John Crowder
Dozens of people attended the October 8th meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board, packing the small meeting room and lining the hallway leading to it. Several of those in attendance were there to speak out against what they described as unruly and violent behavior by students in schools throughout the district. Parents, students, and teachers all expressed their dismay over the situation.
Even so, some at the meeting defended the schools, blaming the media for focusing on the problem behavior exhibited by a minority of students and telling the protesters they should be providing solutions instead of just complaining.
The most poignant pleas came from the children, who led off the public comments. They spoke about being scared to go to school. One young girl, a student at Dallas Ranch Middle School (DRMS), spoke about a friend of hers, who she said, “had a knife waved in her face,” and her hair cut off by another student. “She dropped out,” said the speaker.
Kathryn O’Shea, a sophomore at Deer Valley High School, said she was, “tired of classmates disrupting our classes.” She said that, on average, 30 minutes of each class is lost due to disruptive behavior.
“We can’t learn anything,” she concluded.
Parents attending the meeting expressed grave concern with the amount of violent and disruptive behavior by students taking place in the classroom, on campuses, and in the surrounding community.
Lara Lindeman said she was speaking because, “my daughter is not safe at Dallas Ranch Middle School.” She listed a host of examples. They included two teachers leaving the school after being threatened and assaulted by a student, a student threatening to “return and shoot” a teacher, and a boy trying to kick down the door to gain entry to a classroom while students inside were, “helpless,” and “repeated calls for security were unanswered” during the incident. She went on to say, “Restorative justice practices are being implemented, but we’re told it will take several years before we can expect measurable results. What about in the meantime? What about in the NOW?”
Gil Murillo, a parent with children at Deer Valley High School (DVHS), began by taking issue with a statement he attributed to a current board member that, “the campuses we have are just fine,” with respect to student safety. He went on to demand the resignation of the DVHS principal, Ken Gardner, saying his leadership at the school had failed. Murillo said that students were, “running out of control,” and cited gambling, drug use on the campus, and violations of the dress code as just some of the problems evident. “As a parent, I am tired of poor management,” he said. He continued, “It is time for change, immediate change!”
Frank DeLuna, Vice President of the PTSO at Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) and a long-time volunteer, noted several problems on that campus. He talked of students smearing feces in the boys’ bathroom, smoking pot, using profanity, cursing out adults, and committing acts of violence. “Just last month we had an incident where some relatives of a student came on campus,” he said. “They went to a P.E. class and had their kid beat up another kid while they watched and kept anyone from helping. The student who got beat up was taken away in an ambulance. The P.E. teacher who tried to stop it was also injured.” DeLuna summarized the concerns of many in attendance, when he said, “Stop worrying about the rights of the bad kids, and start worrying about the rights of the good kids who want to learn, but can’t.” This statement was greeted by loud applause from the audience.
Ellen Marie Sun, Vice President of the PTO at Jack London Elementary School said she was there because she was, “upset about the increasing violence in our schools which often spills over to the rest of the community.” She related an incident she said she “personally” knew of at DVHS, in which a girl student was walking to the bathroom and, “a stranger grabbed her and tried to carry her away.” Saying that the administration had downplayed the incident, she asked, “Do we need someone to really finish the deed – a sexual assault, an attempted kidnapping, or to find a girl murdered in the bathroom to finally have AUSD and Principal Gardner say, ‘Hey, something needs to be done-enough is enough?’” She also spoke about the BDMS fight that was brought up by DeLuna.
Jamie Clee said that she was a parent with children in the second, fourth, and sixth grades. “I am here tonight to address my concerns with the violence and lack of classroom learning from disruptive students,” she said. “Why do I feel as if I am dropping my children off at juvenile halls?” In a written statement detailing her comments, she states, “The parents in this community are talking about a STRIKE!! We are ready to stop sending our kids into schools in which they feel scared, unprotected and are always looking over their shoulders.”
Although most speakers at the meeting expressed dismay with how the schools are being managed, AUSD did have supporters speaking up as well.
Angie Jorgenson, Deer Valley Band Booster Vice President, said she had children attending both DVHS and DRMS. “I am here in support of Deer Valley in light of recent events in the media and on campus,” she said.
Jorgenson said she did not want to, “discount anything that has been said tonight,” and said other speakers had expressed, “valid concerns,” but that some had, “let their anger get the best of them.” She called for better communication, and said, “We need to stop placing blame and start presenting solutions.” She called DVHS, “a good school.” She also indicated that the attention being given to the “problem group” was causing a false impression. “I believe the pervasive negativity by the community and the media is taking a toll on our kids and teachers.”
Velma Wilson, a youth education advisor with the local NAACP, said that she had been to Deer Valley Plaza with Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, and had spoken with some of the students there. She said that, “some of [the misbehavior] is because of a bad home life.” She went on to say, “Kids want to keep it up because of the media,” arguing that media reports about students acting out actually encourage that type of behavior.
Following Wilson’s statement, board member Claire Smith indicated her agreement. “I went and I helped at school,” she said. The problem is not with every child. It’s with a small group of children.” Referring to the reference made by Wilson to some of the children having a bad home life, she said, “You absolutely do grasp the situation. It’s a community working together issue. It starts with supporting these kids, and telling them they’re good kids.”
Other speakers challenged those in attendance to spend less time complaining, and more time at school helping out.
At one point, board president Joy Motts called on Bob Sanchez, Director, Student Support Services with AUSD, to comment. “The city has changed,” he said. “We are trying to do the best we can.” He went on to talk about having a “discipline matrix.” He also referenced an agreement he said the district has with the American Civil Liberty Union regarding suspensions and expulsions.
In the end, concerns with violence, both on and off school campuses, appear to be coming to a head, given the talk of a strike and the fact that different groups of disaffected parents seem to be coalescing. The issue has been a major point of discussion among candidates for school board, and will certainly remain a focus leading up to the November 4 election and beyond.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, at the AUSD office at 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.