KGUN 9News


TUSD reverses course: Serious discipline back in play

Posted at 1:26 AM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 15:15:25-04
Tucson Unified School District has reverted back to higher discipline measures.
In an earnest attempt to deal with many issues inside the district's 89 schools, the more lenient discipline practices actually created more problems inside many of the schools.
KGUN9 reported for the first time that school officials are confirming serious discipline punishments are now back in play for trouble-maker students in TUSD schools, including Utterback Middle School, which has recently been the center of controversy. 
Utterback is billed as a visual and performing arts magnet school that infuses math and science into an arts education. But an Utterback counselor, Tony Mosely, recently stood before the School Board upset that too many inexperienced teachers and discipline problems this year have a growing group of concerned parents saying Utterback has become utter hell.
"And that's very frustrating to me because I see these kids come everyday with the heart to learn and want to do something with their lives," said Mosely.
Three parents, Bennetta Morgan, Beneta Martinez and Leo Fleming, also decided to take a stand after witnessing first hand this semester out of control classrooms. "The children laying on tables. Screaming in classrooms. Yelling at the teachers, "said Bennetta Morgan. 
Beneta Martinez added, "They lay on top of the desk. They throw papers. They say bad words."
"There's no discipline. There's no consequences to their actions," said Leo Fleming.
The parents say the bad behavior extends beyond the constant disruptions in classrooms, Beneta Martinez told the board in August, "There's fights in the school to where nothing is being done."
And these three parents are not alone in their frustration. Over the past 6 months teachers, principals, staff, students, and parents have come forward to KGUN9 detailing severe discipline issues at schools across the district documented in school Incident Detail Reports. 
Those reports have shown a huge swing in numbers.
At Palo Verde High School, for example, the 2014/15 school year shows:
  • Tardies -- 139
  • Leaving school grounds without permission -- 92
  • Disruption -- 125
  • Defiance or disrespect towards authority -- 235
In the 2015/16 school year -- those reported incidents dropped dramatically -- no more than 5 and 2 of them to 0.

Cross checking dates of the Palo Verde's incidents with Tucson Police report we also found that administrators downplayed or under-reported serious incidents -- like fights and criminal assaults.
A credible confidential source, who told us about the severe discipline issues at Palo Verde, said Utterback had similar problems so we requested the Incident Detail Reports back in July.
But KGUN9 can't show you the exact numbers for Utterback because we couldn't get them.
Though the district completed the redacted reports in August -- 220 pages total -- ready for pick-up. An email followed hours later saying the reports were no longer available and under review. Then after repeated requests over two months, TUSD denied our request citing the possibility of privacy rights violations even though all students names are redacted.
Instead, the district provided just the total number of incidents and suspensions leaving us with no way to determine the exact violations and the consequences, unlike in the Palo Verde case where we were able to show the reporting of troubles in the school dramatically decreased to nearly nothing. 

The data simply shows in the 2014/15 school year -- 157 incidents -- and 130 suspensions. The following year when the district ramped up its lenient practices to reduce suspensions and expulsions, the number of incidents jumped to 211 and 96 students faced suspensions. 

The district confirmed in August that the school struggled with discipline last year.

TUSD's Director of School Improvement, Tina Stephans, recently reported to the School Board, "We had a significant number of discipline issues that went up there. And the first thing I want to say is Utterback had 18 brand new teachers. And anytime you have 18 brand new teachers. You have classroom management problems."
TUSD's Middle School Director Michael Konrad in charge of changing the disruptive culture at Utterback. He said he recently looked at all the school's data comparing the first semester  this year -- to last year.
"We saw both the number of incidents decreasing and the number of serious incidents decreasing by quite a lot. Now that's not to say there aren't discipline issues that happen in the classrooms. So we do have a dean in place, we have a monitor staff and our administrative team. Having those things in place we are seeing a downturn in the amount of incidents that are occurring, however, there are still instances of students misbehaving and being held accountable," said Konrad.

Then came the startling revelation from Konrad that the district has reversed course, increasing student suspensions this school year not only at Utterback, but the school district confirmed that the tougher discipline practices are back in play districtwide.
Konrad said any time two or more students are caught mutually they are to be suspended out of school for 3 days then return to in-school Intervention. The incident reports last school year show many students caught fighting received detention or reassignment to a different class.
And Level 4 and 5 violations -- like assault -- "They're also going to be suspended for a longer term = any time over 10 days out of the school system."

And twice as long for aggravated assault. "They tend to go for 20 days or more off the campus -- either at home or our alternative education program."     

Though Konrad said the data shows a decline in discipline problems this school year, Bennetta Morgan hasn't seen it yet so she's not convinced. She said, "They're going to hear our voices and we're not going anywhere until they make changes."
After our series of investigative reports into the severe behavior problems in TUSD, it's now clear that the execution of their current discipline policy is tougher... partly based on a lot of issues that were made worse by trying to keep disruptive students in the classrooms. 
The school superintendent and his staff are finalizing its "new" discipline policy, possibly coming out in January or the end of the school year. When that's completed it will go to the 5-member School Board for a vote.  That will come after the November election where three board members are up for re-election. We'll keep you updated on any additional developments.