Teachers say student behavior is getting worse

Teachers at Beaty-Warren Middle School had strong words for the administration and school board on Monday.

“Our students need rules,” Carrie Niemetz said. “Our students need consequences. Recently at our school, I feel we’ve lost that.”

“Over the past few months at my building, I’ve seen a drastic change in my students … colleagues …even myself,” Niemetz said. “The positive school culture … is quickly diminishing.”

“Our school has gotten a bit out of hand,” Wendy Carrington said. “We’re feeling a little helpless.”

“It’s become the norm in our classroom to be told to ‘F’ off or be called a B-word,” Carrington said. “It’s demoralizing. The students in my classroom are kind of desensitized to it.”

“We’re getting books thrown at us,” Christine Samonsky said. “We’re not properly equipped to handle things like that.”

Samonsky said she transferred to Beaty after 12 years with the district “because of how smooth things moved there.”

The school has repeatedly been designated among Schools to Watch.

“The teachers and staff work very diligently, very hard, for that award,” Samonsky said. “From that to chaos.”

“We don’t have the people or the resources that we need to deal with that,” Carrington said. “I can’t necessarily call someone and have them remove them from my classroom. It’s become chaos… we feel kind of helpless,” she said.

“There are not enough people to monitor our students when there are that many students in that building that is so huge,” said Ruby Pope. “It is not conducive to learning.”

“When it comes to discipline, how many times do we have to write a student up before something happens?” Pope asked. “We have students up to 60… and nothing happens. They are still running around… literally running around. It has made going to work… a displeasure.”

School Board Member Jeff Dougherty said he has witnessed the same kinds of things while visiting the school as a parent and as a Warren police captain.

“As a parent … I see the exact same things,” he said. “As a professional in the community, I see the exact same things. Why, when officers are called for assault … are staff getting reprimanded for making that call? It’s extremely frustrating. There’s a clear bias toward certain students being reprimanded at that school. Something needs to change.”

The teachers agreed that student behavior before and since is not what it was 10 years ago, but pointed to a more rapid regression since an unspecified incident in early March.

“We’ve had so many personnel in and out of our building, students don’t care if there’s an adult standing in front of them,” Carrington said. “They have so much of a lack of fear of being disciplined, nothing we say is going to affect them.”

“Beaty needs a strong leader … who is visible … firm yet loving … actively involved … and that backs the staff,” Samonsky said.

“In a school setting, everybody needs to know the administrator is confident in their job,” Niemetz said. “And they are also there to support the student.”

Carrington said the school needs more personnel available to handle situations. “We have such a large population in that building,” she said. “At every level, we need more help and more staffing.”

“The student storms out of the room, we need to have someone that can chase after them,” she said. “A lot of times I’m standing in my doorway watching where the student’s going.”

“You can’t leave a class of 20 or more to take care of one,” Samonsky said.

Carrington also suggested revisiting the discipline policy and “making sure that policy is followed.”

“Seeing if things could be tweaked at all… enforced the way it should be,” Samonsky said.

School Board Member Mary Passinger agreed that the policy should be investigated and the enforcement of it evaluated.

“The best discipline policy in the world is worthless if it’s not enforced,” Passinger said.

Administrators said that additional personnel and programs have been added at Beaty over the years.

“From a central office perspective… over the last four years, my department has removed staff from other schools to add… at Beaty-Warren Middle School,” Director of Pupil Services Dr. Patricia Mead said. “We’ve added two special education teachers. We’ve added art therapy. There are two mental health professionals available… a therapy dog.”

Recently, “a lot has been going on at Beaty,” Mead said. “We’ve sent two additional administrators on a pretty regular basis to Beaty.”

“We have had behaviors in classrooms forever,” Amy Stewart said. “It’s the volume, the number of students.”

Asked about Pope’s note that students are being written up repeatedly without punishment, Amy Stewart said some students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) result in them having different consequences.

“We have full-time emotional support programming centralized at Beaty,” she said. “When the behavior is a manifest of disability, it does get handled differently. A student does X and the consequence is Y. Another student does X and the consequence is something else.”

Discipline concerns cannot be exclusively blamed on students with IEPs.

Mead pointed out that there have been 143 conferences among the 28 percent of students with IEPs at Beaty and 341 for students without them – meaning 59 percent of conferences involve students without IEPs.

“We have made appointments to have a strong administrator in there next year,” Amy Stewart said. Warren Area Elementary Center Principal Jennifer Hobbs has been assigned as principal at Beaty for 2023-2024.

Board Member Arthur Stewart said the board could not directly address questions about district personnel. But, he asked what the board could do to help with the situations at Beaty.

“It’s disheartening as board members to hear the concerns you raise about the language in the classrooms,” Arthur Stewart said. “What you describe is untenable.”

“We talk about positive reinforcement as one of the tools available,” he said. “Maybe we would do better with more tools in the toolbox.”

“I would take Jeff’s concerns about assaults and I would take the concerns about the F-bomb,” he said. “I wouldn’t want my student in the class for either of those.

“The charge would be… how many F-bombs does it take to trigger our discipline policy? What kind of IEP components exist so that when that F-bomb drops or that fist flies… how can that student be removed from the classroom… so the educational process can continue?” he said. “If there’s an assault that goes on in the classroom and somehow it doesn’t make it here… is that a failing of our discipline code?”

The work at the board level is unlikely to have any impact on the school this year.

“It’s May,” Arthur Stewart said. “Nothing that this board can do is going to change anything on the ground at Beaty in the next three weeks.”

He did thank the teachers for coming forward. “It takes enormous courage,” he said.


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