Springfield Public School teachers are raising safety concerns

During a recent staff meeting discussing student behavior and discipline at Grant Middle School, Wendy Turner said she looked around the classroom and saw teachers who were “tired, defeated and hopeless.”

Morale at the west side school is currently at an all-time low, according to the fourth-year English Language Arts teacher.

“The most disturbing thing I heard,” Turner said, “was a colleague who said they told their family they loved them every morning because they weren’t even sure they would make it through the day unscathed.

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“Safety should be non-negotiable.”

Turner was one of four middle and high school teachers who addressed the District 186 Board of Education meeting last week.

Turner said staff members, including her, have been assaulted or threatened with violence by students, but the consequences for them have been “inconsistent and sometimes non-existent.”

Thirty-two teachers and staff members were absent from Grant on May 3, some purposefully calling for a safer school environment, though some said district spokeswoman Rachel Dyas already had commitments.

Because the district was notified of the teacher-led action, there were enough substitute teachers available and student attendance was normal at 83%, Dyas said.

Springfield Education Association President Aaron Graves said the teachers union is pushing for additional alternative education options for students and negotiating with the district to improve the culture, including academic offerings, for high school students.

Graves also said Gill and board members failed to live up to a video they posted early this year about drawing “a line in the sand (on student behavior and discipline”).

“We’re not being paid attention to,” Graves said during last week’s public comment session. “Our trauma is not being taken into account and it shows. Our adults are being verbally, physically and emotionally assaulted every day in this district and very little is being done.”

Nicole Moody, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and school culture, said after the board meeting that school safety remained “a number one priority” for students and staff, and that the district has improved safety over the past three to five years has increased, especially in middle and high schools.

“Have we heard our employees? Yes. We continue to respond to these individual concerns on a case-by-case basis,” Moody said. “This is a daily priority for us, thinking about what staff needs, what students need, what families need to feel safe in our environment.”

‘Begging for help’

Turner said after last week’s meeting with the SJ-R that the situation at Grant has deteriorated so much that teachers are constantly afraid and some don’t want to come to school next year.

The same night Turner made her public comments, the board approved the appointment of Jordan Joost as principal at Grant. Joby Crum, former teacher, resigned after a year.

Turner said that when teachers go to the administration to ask for help, “we are told that the administration is not getting the help they need from the district, so it’s a trickle-down effect.

“We are at a point where we are asking and begging for help to get our school back and make it a safe place for ourselves and for our students.”

Vocal/instrumental music teacher Brian Daugherty pointed out that there are sixth graders at Grant who need to be escorted to class “because they are not ready to learn.

“The current system is not effective in meeting the social and emotional needs of our students,” Daugherty added.

Melissa Hostetter, a science teacher at Franklin Middle School, said the effects of student-to-student violence have been inconsistent and that the district needs “alternative and therapeutic placement options.”

“We need to find a way to hold students and parents more accountable,” Hostetter said during the meeting. “We must decide whether and how we will respond in a way that respects the learning of all students and staff in our schools.”

‘Turning the Titanic’

School board member Buffy Lael-Wolf acknowledged that out-of-control behavior has escalated significantly since students and staff returned to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic and that high schools have “probably had the most difficult time because of the age range they serve.” “

The video developed by the school board, she said, was intended to remind students that “actions have consequences. It was also to let staff know that we understand the seriousness and want to support them.”

Board member Sarah Blissett said the board meant what it said in the video and that “the safety of our staff is something that weighs heavily on my mind.”

Blissett said she hoped to start working this summer to ensure there would be more consistency among schools on issues such as cell phone and dress code enforcement, and referrals and suspensions across the district.

“It’s going to take all of us to turn this Titanic around,” Lael-Wolf admitted. “But at the end of the day, both parents and teachers want kids to be successful and that’s what we need to work toward.”

Graves agreed that there needs to be buy-in and that all parties “want the best for their children,” he told The State Journal-Register. “We all need to find some common ground and be honest about where we stand.”

But Graves was adamant that the district needed to come up with an alternative placement solution because both Douglas Prep and Springfield Learning Academy are both full.

“We love kids. We want to help kids,” he said. “You can’t like some of these things in children. There must be clear boundaries, consequences and alternatives for children than the traditional school building. If that means that children sometimes have a difficult path or parents temporarily have a difficult path with their children have , then that’s what it means.

“You can’t be everything to everyone all the time, no matter how much we try.”

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788; [email protected]; X, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.