Last year, Oak Grove Middle School’s 576 students were suspended 247 times, including 166 times for violent or drug-related incidents. The California school also suspended seven students, whose offenses ran the gamut from assault and brandishing a knife, to robbery and extortion.
English teacher Bethany Monk and substitute teacher Rebecca Richter — who have both been subjected to profane language and abusive behavior — told the Contra Costa Times that when they tried to discipline rowdy students by sending them out of the classroom, the school’s administrators often sent the students right back, reigniting the abusive behavior.
The two teachers are attempting to raise awareness about Oak Grove’s discipline problem and hostile environment by speaking out. Their hope is that the school will take action to curb the disruptive and abusive behavior, like students hitting teachers in the head with flying erasers and paper airplanes, and enable students who require counseling and other services to get the necessary help.
According to principal Lisa Murphy Oates, who came to the district last fall, the school prides itself on promoting a safe environment “where students are free to learn and teachers are free to teach.”
"We follow appropriate disciplinary procedures for bullying, which include parent contact, suspension and depending on the incident, a recommendation for expulsion,” she wrote in an email to the Times.
The school reportedly has a procedure for handling unruly students, but in one case, the principal simply returned the offending students to the classroom. After days of disruptions, the principal terminated Richter’s assignment, reportedly telling her she was not a good “fit.”
The district also plans to offer anti-bullying training to all administrators in August, and implement an anti-bullying campaign.
In late May, a sixth-grader at Oak Grove Middle School was attacked by three other students, one of whom choked him and threatened to crack his neck during a P.E. class, The Times reported. His mother only found out about the attack when her son texted her from the school office saying he had been hurt.
The incident prompted a police investigation, which resulted in administrative action against two of the three students involved.
This past April, a six-year-old kindergartner was taken away in handcuffs after throwing a tantrum. The episode sparked debate across the country about whether teachers and police are overreacting when dealing with disruptive students.
Some juvenile authorities believe increased police intervention is being driven by zero-tolerance policies and the presence of more officers on school grounds over the past two decades as a result of tragedies like the Columbine High massacre.