KGUN 9News


Tell-All Interview: Booth-Ficket principal

Posted at 6:56 PM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 21:56:36-04
An exclusive tell-all interview with the Booth-Fickett principal who was told to leave his school a day after our KGUN 9 interview.
The district showed Charles Bermudez the door Wednesday after he revealed TUSD's new discipline policy to reduce suspensions and expulsions is not working and it's led to more bullying and vandalism.
As the first interview got underway, Charles Bermudez intended to tow the district line, but there was a moment when he decided he could no longer lie. "I'm going to tell it like it is," he had said.
Then the district showed him the door. "So the message that went out to teachers and administrators is that if you talk, you're not going to be there. The message is very clear," he said during his second interview with KGUN9.
No longer tied to the district, he now wants to send a message to parents about the district's transition to a more lenient policy that, he says, places a bigger burden on the teachers. "The small disruptions, the talking in class, the being rude -- so the teachers are supposed to handle that," he said.
Once handled by administrators, teachers are instead required to document those incidents and contact parents. "But it's difficult for the teachers to do that when they have 27 other kids and they're supposed to be teaching a lesson," he said.
And even if disruptive kids were sent out of the classroom they would often return in time for their next class with no change in behavior because, Bermudez says, staff had little training in what to do. "Most principal were kind of unclear. I was unclear about the policy. The current policy for me is too weak. Anything farther, I believe, is too weak for all our families," said Bermudez.
So what about the more severe discipline issues that once led to suspensions and expulsions?
Before the start of the year, Charles Bermudez had been given clear direction by Superintendent H-T Sanchez about the change to TUSD's new discipline policy.
"We were not really allowed to suspend. We're really not allowed," he said. Bermudez says he had to call district administrators to get permission to suspend students, but the issue often got kicked back to the school and he was told to handle it.
And the reason, Bermudez said, was also clear: to meet the Unitary Status Plan requirements in the desegregation case.
"They said this (the new discipline policy) was needed. This is what we're doing (to prevent the pipeline to prison) and this is the right thing. This was after Sanchez's visit to the White House," he said.
Bermudez and others in authority believe the superintendent Is on a mission to make TUSD a model for discipline for the entire nation, but things aren't working out that way.  
Bermudez says the plan in place doesn't support teachers and administrators. Staff had not been sufficiently trained on how to handle the changes, including the in-school intervention counselors. "The truth is TUSD has a lack of qualified candidates and we're sending kids to a certified person who has to deal with the toughest kids and it becomes challenging when you have 700 middle school kids."
And Bermudez said conversations swirled in administrator circles that minority students are to be given more leniency -- even in severe cases like fist fights.
"They're very careful about who they discipline and because those numbers are checked monthly. So you can have a Hispanic kid, for example, that has issues and probably has issues that he brings to school. You better not discipline that kids too many times or it'll bring your numbers up too high," he said.
And if that happens, he said, the district put principals on the hot seat and Bermudez and his colleagues feared they would lose their jobs.
"If you don't agree then you're removed and there's a list of people who have been removed," he said.
And after the first interview aired, Bermudez said he was innundated with more than 300 texts and emails from administrators and former and current teachers.
KGUN9's Valerie Cavazos: And what are they telling you? 
Bermudez: Teachers are telling me I'm their hero for stepping up.
Bermudez says he's speaking out because he wants parents to understand the new discipline policy and get involved in their schools to see what's really happening in the classrooms.

He says the problem is a district-wide.

TUSD Statement:

KGUN9 reached out to TUSD for a response. We received this statement: 
Our Guide for Student Rights and Responsibilities (also sometimes referred to as a Code of Conduct) has not had any major revisions in several years. Recent minor revisions were at the request of the Department of Justice and approved by all parties.  
Tucson Unified is in the process of re-writing the Code of Conduct for 2016-17. We are seeking the input of the community, Principals, teachers, students and parents before the updated code is brought to the school board for approval. 
It has always been our policy that Principals with any questions or concerns about how to implement student discipline policies should contact their Director, Assistant Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent or Superintendent. That policy continues as we move forward with the writing of the new Code of Conduct.
The presentation on the steps taken so far is available here. We'll continue to update the community in the coming weeks.