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TUSD explains moves behind discipline changes

Posted at 10:31 AM, May 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-10 13:32:11-04
A district under scrutiny for how it's handling severe discipline issues.
 
Tucson Unified's Superintendent, H.T. Sanchez, has been working to finalize a new Code of Conduct to reduce suspensions and expulsions.
 
But this school year current staff have come forward to KGUN9 to report the new practices already in place district-wide are too lenient resulting in further bullying, more assaults with watered-down punishment for the offenders and worsening morale issues with many staff and teachers on the frontlines.
 
KGUN9's Valerie Cavazos sat down with the man under fire, in part, to walk through process and explain the reasons why he felt the discipline policy needed to be changed.  
 
It all started in H-T Sanchez's first year, Sanchez said, pressured under the decades old desegregation court order, specifically the Unitary Status Plan, to fix discipline disparities between minority and white students.
 
Sanchez says he began looking at national data. "You tend to find that you'll have minority students who break the same rule that majority students break. And the minority student gets a harsher penalty. And in most cases they're removed for a longer period of time from instruction than a majority student and that's national research. That's not H-T Sanchez. So you have the Unitary Status Plan that says you need to look at that data, because the courts are going to look at that data and the plaintiffs are going to look at that data," he said.
 
He said the district looked at the data and in most schools TUSD's discipline disparities mirrored those trends found in urban cities, like Houston and Chicago. "We began breaking down data. Taking a look at all the information. And we began evaluating our practices. We began evaluating the consistency and we began looking at the data on a regular basis," And having conversations with principals. He said in the end he found the district needed to change the Code of Conduct, which guides discipline practices.
 
After Sanchez's first year, the work, he said, was nearly completed. "This goes back to 2013. It was 90 percent done. And so we took it to the board. The board voted on it and then we sent it back to the plaintiffs and special master. They made commentary and there were certain things that they felt were too harsh. They said this penalty is very harsh for this rule violation. So we began talking to them about what needed to change and we got to a point where we said alright we'll work with this and make the adjustments." 
 
The district deployed those adjustments the next school year. And Sanchez says he explained the philosophy -- the restorative practices -- to the principals. "Our choice is to send a child into an unsupervised environment or an environment where they witness abuse and violence or into a neighborhood where they're seeing things most families don't witness on a daily basis. We can do that or we can find a way to work with them here," he said.
 
One of the biggest adjustments this school year, Sanchez said, pertains to principals. They can no longer decide whether to suspend a student. Instead, they are required to make a phone to a district administrator. "There is a conversation that has to be held that says alright, what is the situation? What have we done on the front end? And if we're asked, alright. Did we provide the level of support for this student before we deny them an education and send them out of the education setting. Did we do the things we needed to? If the answer is yes, and this is an ongoing and escalating issue, then the suspension occurs," he said.
 
Sanchez said the vast majority of the administrators in TUSD's 89 schools picked up the philosophy. But some principals and staff who have come forward told KGUN9 Sanchez's plan was poorly executed because those on the front-lines, teachers especially, did not received enough training in how to handle the changes.
 
Sanchez said that he plans to get the finalized Code of Conduct to the governing board sometime in the middle of August.