'Out of control': Teachers describe KHSD schools after anti-discrimination settlement

FILE -- Bakersfield High School is seen in July 2017. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

This summer, the Kern High School District settled a lawsuit that claimed discrimination caused minority students to be suspended more often than white students.

Suspension rates at KHSD schools are way down since the settlement, and teachers say as a result the kids are walking all over the staff. Things have gotten out of control, some teachers say.

Multiple KHSD teachers tell Eyewitness News that students aren't getting suspended for breaking the rules, with the exception of those students who are caught fighting or those caught with drugs.

Bakersfield High School Physical Education Chairman Terry Chapman said students are being given "lunch detentions." The problem is, Chapman said, there is no such thing as a lunch suspension and no way to keep track of whether the students are serving the detention.

"I was told if they actually do sign into something then it needs to be counted as a suspension, and the school and the district doesn't want to do that," said Chapman.

The numbers back up Chapman's and the other teachers' claims. This school year, KHSD is on pace to suspend 3,972 students. That is 1,757 fewer suspensions than last school year, a drop of about 30 percent.

According to the district, the dramatic decline of suspensions is due to a disciplinary program implemented district-wide while they were fighting the discrimination lawsuit. The program is called Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, or PBIS.

Another teacher at BHS, the school where PBIS was piloted before being implemented in all district schools, said problem students have caught onto the PBIS system and know what they won't be disciplined for.

"They know that, 'What are you going to do to me? Send me to the dean? They don't want to deal with me. They're just gonna send me right back,'" said teacher Johnny Maran.

At BHS, suspensions are down 25 percent from last school year. That is not even close to the largest drop-off. North High is down 52 percent, and Mira Monte is down 62 percent.

According to both Maran and Chapman, the lack of consequences for bad behavior has become such an issue that teachers are afraid to go to school.

"When that bell rings and we come out, our head is on a swivel," said Chapman. "We're wondering if we're going to be hit, if something is going to be thrown, or where the next fight is we have to break up."

Chapman said he was punched in the face by a student and needed to have knee surgery after breaking up a fight. The student who punch him in the face was expelled.

Maran said a student approached him in a hostile manor, challenging him to a fist fight. According to Maran, the BHS administration only wanted to suspend the student for three days, even though Maran said he was concerned for his own safety should the student return.

Both Chapman and Maran recall countless stories of students being defiant, cursing up a storm, leaving class without permission, leaving class early, roaming the halls, and disrupting class without consequence. The teachers say their colleagues have lost faith in the system to the point that they won't even bothering sending students to the dean's or principal's office anymore.

Meaning, many cases of unacceptable behavior are going unreported.

All of this boiled over at Monday's regularly scheduled KHSD board meeting, where several teachers took to the podium to speak out.

"The kids see them walk in, and they see there is no consequences for the actions," said one teacher.

"They just come back into the classroom, and I'm fearing for the good kid," said another.

The teachers explained how the implementation of the PBIS policies makes it virtually impossible for them discipline students for negative behavior. The spoke about how they do not feel safe when they go to school. They told the board exactly who pays the price when issues like this aren't dealt with appropriately.

"The good kids is the one who is getting punished for this, because the good kids cannot study when I have to discipline the same kid five, six, seven times a period, and the good kid cannot learn," said Archie Parks, a teacher at BHS.

The district said the PBIS policies were put in place before the Dolores Huerta lawsuit settlement and said in no way is the drop in suspensions related to the settlement. However, PBIS wasn't put into every KHSD school until after the lawsuit was filed. Also, the drop in suspensions since the suspensions is massive in comparison to the drop in suspensions the year before when most KHSD schools were using PBIS.

However, the district maintains the lawsuit alleging discrimination in regards to suspension rates of minority students plays no role in the rapid decline of suspension rates. It is worth noting that of the 16 Hispanic majority schools in the KHSD, 12 of them are on pace to suspend less students than the year before.

While the district claims the lawsuit has nothing to do with disciplinary policies, teachers beg to differ.

"They have to have the OK a lot of the time to suspend the student, and a lot of that is dependent on what your ethnicity is," said Chapman.

Maran told a story about a teacher who sent a kid who was on drugs to the dean's office and what the dean told that teacher.

"Oh, that was an easy case, because he was Caucasian," said Maran. "If he were African-American or Hispanic, we couldn't have suspended him."

Whatever the origin of the PBIS policies, one thing is clear, KHSD teachers, at least the ones who spoke to Eyewitness News and the ones who spoke at the KHSD board meeting, do not think these policies benefit anyone.

"Don't just take my word for it. Ask the teachers. Ask security. Ask custodians. Everything is much worse," said Chapman.

The district sent the following email response when we asked if these policies keep schools safe:

"The Kern High School District places great value on instructional time and school safety. We believe the work surrounding student behavior and supports is important, and we value the input from our students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders. As we continue to implement PBIS/MTSS and student support systems, we will continually engage with our staff to ensure that appropriate student discipline policies are in place in order to maintain a safe environment for our students and staff. "

The KHSD website says the following on its FAQs page regarding the lawsuit settlement:

“KHSD has been reviewing its student discipline data as it impacts minority students, and reframing its student discipline practices in order to address the statistically disproportionate suspension and expulsion of students of color.”
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