TVUSD governing board must confront aggressive behavior in its schools

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

Solana Husband, an African American student at Temecula Valley High School, was the recent victim of a profanity-laced, racial slur perpetrated by a fellow student.

Husband said that she may have been targeted for reporting that a Confederate flag had been painted on the asphalt of a student’s parking spot at TVHS. Husband also shared how she and other students have been repeatedly subjected to racially insensitive behaviors with minimal, if any, resolution.

TVUSD board member Barbara Brosch described how the incident left her sickened and heartbroken. She goes on to say, “But we cannot control what our students are taught outside of school.” A valid observation, but it should not be an excuse for the TVUSD governing board to continue doing very little to confront aggressive behavior in its schools.

School safety should be the highest priority. Learning cannot occur if students do not feel safe both physically and emotionally. The California Healthy Kids survey of 2016-017 which gauges school climate in California schools showed that the percentages of seventh, ninth and 11th graders who had been bullied or harassed at Temecula schools exceeded statewide averages, including the Moreno Valley School District where 13-year-old Diego Stolz was viciously attacked and killed by two students at Landmark Middle School.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International, 34% of parents feared for their children’s safety at school. That percentage has risen from 12% only five years ago.

It is imperative that the following measures be taken to reverse the escalating trend of abusive and threatening behaviors.

Governing board members and district administrators must be more engaged in providing and maintaining safe school environments. Frequent, unannounced visits to all school sites should be undertaken on a regular basis especially during student break and lunch periods to accurately assess student behavior and current levels of school security.

Board members should be talking to teachers, support personnel, students and parents about their behavioral observations and suggestions to heighten school safety. Unfortunately, teachers and support personnel are often discouraged or reluctant to report concerns fearing administrative retaliation or that concerns will be ignored. And parents often feel genuine frustration with district indifference and lack of response to their concerns about student safety.

Incidents like the Husband case and the Stolz tragedy should prompt the governing board to immediately convene a series of meetings involving administrators, parents, teachers and local police to examine the rise in student bullying and what can be done to reverse this trend.

The implementation of a “tested” bullying prevention program with school staff fully trained on what bullying is, what the rules and policies are and how to enforce the plan.

Teachers and support personnel must do more as well to protect our students. Staff must be visible in greater numbers before and after school, during passing, break and lunch periods. This visibility factor can deter mischief, make students feel safer and contribute to a more positive school climate.

There should be highly trained mental health crisis teams at each school site to identify and work with troubled youth, including those who bully others and the victims who are threatened or injured since they can become candidates who might bring weapons to school for personal safety or revenge.

Schools should replace soft, positive discipline plans like “restorative justice” that invite rather than deter bullying with zero-tolerance policies containing serious consequences, including suspension and expulsion for abusive and threatening behaviors.

Parents must unite to hold elected governing board members and district administrators accountable for the safety of their children. Demand that bullying be taken seriously. Demand that concrete steps be taken to improve school safety. And demand immediate action.

As a recently retired, 40-year teacher in the Temecula school district, I have personally witnessed students and staff verbally assaulted and threatened with increasing regularity. The shift to so-called positive or progressive plans places a greater emphasis on other “alternatives” to punishment. Those alternatives, however, are often minor and insignificant, and the students know it. It is time that the school district leadership stand up to bullying and combat this epidemic.

Robert Eilek

Temecula resident