For the past month I’ve been interviewing and receiving testimonials from East Baton Rouge Teachers in most of the area’s non-magnet high schools. This investigation started as a conversation with a teacher (who had recently become a follower.) This teacher explained no one speaks for them, no one sees their stories. They relayed teachers in EBR are terrified to speak out about the travesties and indignities being heaped upon them in the name of “improving outcomes.” These outcomes are determined by some easily manipulated statistics that comprise School Performance (SPS) scores. I listened and I was honestly shocked and infuriated by what I heard.
Our teachers are under siege, from all quarters, and only a few on the breaking edge (and perhaps breaking point) are able to speak out – even anonymously.
As part of my investigation I spoke to and corresponded with numerous teachers from many different schools, teaching a wide variety of subjects. The teachers I spoke to have diverse experience levels , comprise both genders, and the stories all sound sadly similar. The basic story goes like this:
In the past few years EBR’s discipline policies and promotion policies have been weakened substantially. This is a result of two absurd policies coming from Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s office.
I phoned the EBR central office to speak to someone in charge of discipline hearings for EBR. (Taylor has never returned any of my calls or e-mails to date (even on positive stories I’ve tried to pitch to him) so I didn’t bother with trying to get a response from him.) I introduced myself as a concerned parent and education blogger and I was assured the director over discipline hearings would be calling me back. That was 10 days ago, so I’m pretty sure I will be getting no call or explanation.
I also reached out and contacted the EBR school board to discuss this matter. I do not have any statements on record, but those I talked to seemed surprised and outraged by what I was describing in the school system. Let me just say, I was surprised by what was described to me as well, but not in a good way.
The first misguided policy in play seems to be one where only murderers, kids who bring explosives, discharge guns or bring illegal drugs to school can be expelled. All other violations, even those that result in hospitalization of the victims, must be tolerated, and tolerated repeatedly.
The second destructive policy EBR has implemented is that children have no responsibility for making their grades or passing their classes. Teachers must do everything they can push, pull or drag kids to pass their classes. In practical terms this means tests are given over and over until a student “passes” and “extra credit” must be created and awarded to whatever extent is possible to ensure students pass their classes.
As a result of the first policy it appears violent thugs run many of our high schools, free to beat, steal, and threaten the lives of any who oppose them. Student’s that assault teachers multiple times do not get expelled, they get returned to the same teacher’s classrooms. Students who threaten to kill their teachers and classmates are sometimes just given a warning and sent right back to class.
Here are some recent stories that have appeared in our newspapers about our students and their assaults on each other of our teachers in the past month. This is by no means a complete list, just a representative one that I find disappointing no reporters in any of our local mainstream media are covering:
Police: Student said loaded pistol was for protection
Authorities with the multiagency School Drug Task Force on Friday arrested a ninth-grade McKinley High School
student accused of taking a loaded handgun to school.
BATON ROUGE – Authorities arrested a 17-year-old Baton Rouge student after school officials said she repeatedly kicked a teacher who tried to break up a fight.
Deputies arrested Raven Davis after the fight at Tara High School
Tuesday and booked her into the parish jail on charges of battery and disturbing the peace.
Sisters accused of disrupting school
- Two sisters were arrested Thursday afternoon on accusations they showed up to McKinley High School
and tried to back up a younger sister allegedly involved in a fight earlier in the day.
- The school was put on lockdown during the ordeal.
Teen shot in robbery Thursday in Gardere (outside of school)
- A planned robbery disguised as a drug deal didn’t go as scheduled Thursday night in the Gardere area.
- One of the teenagers involved in the planned robbery, a 14-year-old boy, was shot and seriously injured, while an 18-year-old was arrested on accusations he had the gun that another person used to shoot the boy, an affidavit of probable cause says.
Students accused of threatening educators
- East Baton Rouge Parish school system employees contacted authorities in at least two cases this week in which students threatened educators, leading to the arrest of two 17-year-old students.
- Dominic Demontay Powell, 17, 9870 Scotland Ave., was booked into Parish Prison on Friday accused of shoving a Scotlandville High School administrator while being questioned about suspected marijuana use, an affidavit of probable cause says.Inside the school official’s office at the high school, the administrator told Powell to empty his pockets. Powell took out a cigarette, a lighter and some money, the affidavit says. When the administrator moved to grab the money, Powell shoved him and said, “Don’t touch my money,” the affidavit says.
- In a second incident on Friday, Demarcus Devonte Kimble, 17, 5656 Autumn Blossom Ave., is accused of walking into a teacher’s lounge at Belaire High School and cursing at a teacher, an affidavit of probable cause says. When told by the teacher to leave the room, Kimble is accused of threatening the teacher, saying he would get someone to come to school and hurt her, the affidavit says. Powell was booked into Parish Prison on a count of assault on a school teacher.
I have received numerous tips from sources about violence in schools that is not making its way into our local media at all:
February 22 (report from source)
“Good…by the way, three Brm [Broadmoor High school] students arrested and recommended for expulsion for bring BB guns to school this week. On-campus cop caught them. No news coverage. School system wants it BURIED”
February 19th (report from source)
. . .at Belaire HS
early this year a student was beating the shit out of a teacher while students watched, some cheered. A coach at nearby La Belaire Elementary happened to be on campus and saved the teacher…all reliable sources…Brdmr [Broadmoor High School] student caught with drugs and knife on bus today. We’ll see how school system reacts.
February 18th (report from source)
Big fight after Scotlandville [HS] basketball game last night at Brdmr. [Broadmoor HS] involving about one dozen boys, two expelled from earlier in the year…Someone was seriously injured. Investigation continues. Keep you posted.
I have received numerous e-mails, conducted interviews, received letters describing what teachers are seeing and feeling in our area schools. Here are a few for you to review. (Note: Many more have come in since I originally published this story.)
Letter from a teacher
One additional interesting note this week. One of our new, young teachers was shocked when a junior student refused to work and told her in front of the class she would not fail him no matter how low his grade was (36%). “You can’t fail me,” he assured her. “You’ll get in trouble. Not me. I’ll pass.” He then laughed at her. She assured him he would fail, but he refused to believe it. One hour later we were reminded in a meeting with our so-called instructional specialist (another non-teaching, out-of-state joke) that we needed to allow students to make up all work or retake tests regardless of any and all circumstances. Later in the same day, one of my sophomores asked me it were true teachers got into trouble if they had too many students with grades of D or F. I lied to cover my ass and sell the bluff, the only protection I have. Which is sad. It is becoming increasingly clear students are aware of how weak and vulnerable teachers really are. This is a really bad sign. Life before Bernard Taylor, Orlando Ramos [Associate Superintendent of EBR schools] and Michael Haggen [Deputy Superintendent of Innovation and Reform for EBR] would have NEVER allowed this to happen. It would not even be allowed to give birth! So many teachers are plotting their retirement/exit it is shocking.
Letter from a teacher
Yesterday, a teacher tossed a student into the hallway because he was a constant disruption. This student regularly causes grief to all teachers and we cannot expel him. While in the hallway, he bangs on the wooden door with his fists and screams at her to let him back in class. She refuses as a male instructor walks up, as his next door class was being disturbed, and twice asks the student to calm down. He curses the teacher and tells him to mind his own business. The male prods him away from the door and the student lands a swinging elbow on the teacher’s chest. He was taken to the office, but the school system will not allow anything to be done. The student repeated the exact same behavior today, but the male teacher did not respond to calm the situation. Why get involved? …Prior to Christmas, three teachers in one day had their body, life or property threatened. One student threatened “to fucking kill” a teacher for making him leave a class. Another teacher broke up a fight in class and broke a finger doing it. Another teacher was told his parents and brothers were going to “find you, break the windows in your house and fuck you up!” In all three incidents, students were either recommended for suspension or expulsion. The school system returned them all to school. No communication with or apologies to teachers were offered. In one of those cases, a student taunted his teacher with, “told y’all you can’t do shit to us no more”….This week a teacher tried to discipline a student disturbing class, he refused to leave class when asked and then blurted out, “I’m gonna bring a gun to school and kill all you mutha fuckers”. He went to the office and dropped out before “discipline” (joke) could reach him…NOTE: DO NOT MENTION ME OR THE SCHOOL…I’LL KEEP INFO COMING. THESE INCIDENTS ARE A RESULT OF DR. MICHAEL HAGGEN’S [Deputy Superintendent of Innovation and Reform] EDICT THAT ALL STUDENTS SHOULD BE IN SCHOOL REGARDLESS.
An interview with another teacher:
I have been with EBR for 27 years and taught in [redacted] for 6.5 yrs before coming here because a spouse was moved here by [redacted]
I LOVE what I do and most days it is rewarding and fulfilling. Lately, not so much.
I really do not know what to tell you. Ask me some specific questions.
What grades and subjects do you teach
I am an elective teacher in the [redacted]
Are student discipline matters handled fairly in your opinion?
Most of the time they are handled at the school level. It’s when serious matters go to the school board that there is some strange stuff happening. We had a boy that was starting fires in the restroom at my school. He was caught and expelled. Until the school board hearing process happened and he was sent right back to us.
Do you feel more safe or less safe at school around students and what has changed, if anything?
I do not feel as safe as I used to. A kid once made a fake bomb out of cell phone and warned all the kids that at a certain time it would go off and not to be near my desk. This was handled and the kid was expelled. he did try to get into prom and a seven foot police officer escorted him off the property.
Is Common Core an issue?
It is an issue in that the fun and creativity of planning lessons and activities has been sucked right out of teaching. In my elective class I am required to teach reading and writing skills THEIR way. I am not trained to do this. Even the PE teachers MUST do it!
Do teachers bear more of the burden in ensuring kids make the grades and pass than students because of policies and counseling directed to ensure no students fail subjects or have you seen no difference lately in how your administrators monitor the grades you assign your students
KIDS MUST PASS!!!!! Tons of paperwork goes with this and a core teacher could explain it better than me.
Have you been a victim of violence or verbal death threats from students that you feel were not addressed seriously enough or have you seen/witnessed other teachers suffer physical or psychological abuse from students and if so, is this a more recent escalation?
See above. I do know of other teachers that had threats made to them and nothing was done to the student. The offenders remained in the same class with the same teacher.
How is that for starters? I have follow ups depending on your answers
I hope some of this helps. I am NOT a writer.
Letter to me from a retired EBR teacher who retired early to escape the abuse, Taylor and the reformers
After 25 years of service I walked away from the public school system in Baton Rouge fed up with being treated like a second class citizen. I had no interest in writing this until I saw that WBRZ news clip about Taylor’s bullying and I figured I might as well do this. I am retired. They cannot hurt me now.
This once was a noble profession of motivated teachers. Now I see us (them)as down-trodden. Their morale destroyed by students who can seemingly do as they please with little to no consequence. Last year I was slapped by a female high schooler and called a “bitch” after I told her to leave my class because she was disrupting it. This girl had done this before to me and other teachers but nothing was ever done. This time was no different either. She returned to my class the next day with a warning and a smirk on her face. The school administration said the school system wanted to modify her behavior and give her more chances. I was livid. I wanted to walk out of the door and never return. That was the day I decided to consider retirement.
Teachers once could control what they taught, how they taught it and when. Our testing was good enough. Our decisions were valued. Since Taylor and his ilk have taken charge of the school system we teachers are mere robots. We have no control of our professional lives. I just could not take it anymore.
I am only in my mid-50s and planned to teach for 30 years, but I knew I would probably have a heart attack, get beaten up by a 16 year old trying to break up a fight, or have my self-esteem chewed up by a system of overpaid jackasses who clearly have no idea what the teaching climate is like in a public school system. Sometimes I miss teaching, but I also understand to go back means dealing with this “reform” and the corruption behind it.
Since leaving, my blood pressure has dropped and I sleep better.
Hope this helps
Letter to me from another EBR teacher
I was talking with a group of students in my class last year when suddenly one of the girls started crying and ran out of the room!! When I looked to see what happened a young man had gone behind my back while my back was turned and switched the video we were watching to a fight on YouTube. I realized the girl who ran out of the room was getting beat up on the screen. She was humiliated.
I ran to the door and yelled for the girl to come back. At the same time I told the young man (who was 16 years old and 6’2″ and about 175 lbs) to “get out of my room and go to the office.” He responded by telling me we would kill me. As he moved out in to the hall he started screaming at me, “I want to kill your fucking ass!”
Two other teachers heard the commotion and came into the hall. As one of them escorted the student to the office, he repeatedly turned back and screamed.,” I will hunt you down and kill you!”
This student was given a five day suspension and sent right back to our school. He has been in and out of jail on a least one occasion this school year, and gives me an evil look every time I see him on campus. He should have faced legal repercussions. Instead he was given a slap on the wrist and sent out to terrorize others.
East Baton Rouge Parish public school teachers are being bullied by students and the school system on a scale most people would only think occurred in far-fetched fictional films. I’ve spoken with many more teachers than the one’s directly quoted here. I heard stories of many teachers ending up in emergency rooms and hospitals with very severe injuries, and the students involved are not expelled, simply sent back to the same schools and classes. I’ve had these stories multiply corroborated. EBR teachers don’t know who to complain to, dislike their thankless jobs more each day, and many are looking for an exit from a school system that does not support them in these matters.
As you can see from some of the letters I’ve reproduced here teachers are fleeing the profession to escape the violence and absurdity of Common Core, the reform movement, the lack of support, and the dramatic shift of responsibility from students to teachers for completion of student work and graduation. This is what happens when non-educator statisticians and number crunchers get put in charge. (Note: I used to be one working at LDOE.) They worry more about raw numbers like improving graduation rates that John White, the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education has incorporated into SPS scores. These scores determine which schools and school districts get taken over by the state. To improve these scores EBR has taken the absurd stance that students can only be expelled for guns and illegal drugs.
The terrorizing of teachers is gut-wrenching to hear, but even worse is the underlying terrorizing and bullying of our students. Students are being beaten outside of school, having these fights recorded, and then played back on school grounds. Students are killing each other over things that happen at basketball games. Students are setting fires in schools, creating bombs and threatening classmates, and setting up drug deals and robberies and then shooting each other outside of school.
On February 12th the head of APEL, Keith Courville was interviewed by Baton Rouge’s WBRZ-TV, where not one invited teacher met with him for an on-air interview to discuss their abuse by EBR public school superintendent Bernard Taylor. The teachers were upset enough to complain to APEL, but as one teacher told me, “not ready to commit career suicide over the matter.” The irony in that teacher’s remark was that Taylor was exposed by WBRZ phoning teachers and threatening their jobs if they did not keep quiet regarding his so-called reform tactics. However, that does not make teachers any safer from Taylor, his deputy superintendents, or the teenage students that terrorize teachers daily and are rarely punished.
Teachers at six Baton Rouge public high schools (Broadmoor, Belaire, Scotlandville, Tara, McKinley and Woodlawn) have stories of abuse by students and the school system that are common and disturbing. just as was in the case of the WBRZ story, not one was willing to be quoted directly out of fear of Taylor. The abuses ranged from students stealing from them, slapping their faces, pushing them down, beating them unconscious, threatening to destroy their property, cursing them in their classrooms, and multiple cases of teachers being threatened with death. None of these cases resulted in expulsions or permanent removals from the schools or teachers classrooms.
Misguided school reform might have driven Superintendent Taylor to these dangerous and deluded policies, but we concerned citizens and parents must never allow our public schools to become worse than the charter schools, voucher schools, virtual schools and Recovery School District we are trying to fight back against or we have already lost.
When we allow our students to be tormented by hoodlums because we fear our system will be taken over by the state if we kick them out, we have already lost the fight.
When we allow our standards and education to be watered down so everyone can graduate without even trying, just to improve our graduation rate we are not doing our children any favors, we are ruining them for the rest of their lives and we are validating everything the reformers say about how inferior our public schools are.
When we allow our teachers to be beaten and abused, we are guaranteeing they will flee for their health and lives, faster than Common Core and wildly inaccurate teacher evaluations and VAM scores would have accomplished on their own.
When we allow students to threaten their teachers with death on a routine basis, and slap them across the face without facing any repercussions for their assaults we are abusing all our children as well as our teachers. We are teaching our kids that this behavior is ok, which is exactly the wrong lesson.
I am not a John White style reformer. I am a reformer of the reformers. I know not everything our kids learn in school is attributable to a test score and our kids will by no means be college, career, or life ready witnessing and conducting themselves as these teachers are reporting our school system is permitting and enabling.
An investigation needs to be launched over these ridiculous and harmful policies and changes need to be made. I believe Superintendent Taylor is directly responsible for these outrageous situations and policies. I gave Taylor’s cronies a chance to explain themselves and they declined. Now it’s time for us take back our school system from someone who is intent on destroying our schools, destroying our teachers and destroying our students.
Just as many teachers ended their letters to me with “I hope this helps.” I have the same wish. I don’t see anyone else speaking up for these teachers and our students, but I hope this helps.
(edited for grammar and typos on 3/13/14)