Mayor Dwight Jones announced today he would authorize emergency funding to repair some of the city’s crumbling schools -- just as an email began circulating from a group of anonymous teachers decrying problems way beyond brick-and-mortar.
The teachers, identifying themselves only as staff at Martin Luther King Jr. -- the district’s brand new school middle school -- blasted unruly students and weak administrators in an email to Superintendent Dana Bedden.
“We the teachers of MLK can and will not tolerate the irreprehensible (sic) actions that are being committed by the administration and students,” the email states.
Among other issues, the email says, students threaten teachers and wander the halls during class and that administrators are underreporting incidents.
The email reads, in part:
“We as teachers understand that every form of adversity cannot be avoided; however, we cannot teach in an environment where we do not feel safe, are not given our proper resources, and where teachers are constantly cited as being the reason behind so many school failures. MLK can best be referred to as a hostile environment. Students do not feel safe at our school. The environment is not conducive to learning.”
The $41 million school opened in January as a central part of Jones’ Building a Better Richmond campaign. He gave his State of the City speech in its auditorium.
In a phone interview, the teacher who claims responsibility for the email says the discipline problems followed from the decrepit former building into the new facility. The teacher says replacing the principal in February only exacerbated the situation.
“We’ve exhausted our attempts to have this culture rectified,” the teacher says. “We really want the public to be made aware of what’s going on. We want to put pressure on the School Board and the superintendent to make real changes in the school.”
And while the school just opened, the teacher says it’s already having maintenance issues. The air conditioning went offline this week.
School Board Vice Chairman Kristen Larson says she has seen the email, and that the board will investigate.
“I don’t think it’s been a secret that there have been challenges at MLK in the past,” Larson says. “At a school this big it’s going to take time to change the way things are done.”
Richmond Public Schools spokeswoman Cletisha Lovelace could not immediately be reached for comment.
In his announcement today, Jones said that with the additional $732,000 the School Board requested in emergency funding, “the school system can focus on performance issues. I don’t want them to have any distractions that may take away from addressing performance needs in our schools.”
Below is the full text of the teachers' email:
State of MLK Middle School
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School very often accepts conduct that is unacceptable and violates acceptable codes of conduct. We the teachers of MLK can and will not tolerate the irreprehensible actions that are being committed by the administration and students. Here are a few examples of what really goes on at MLK:
Students are disruptive in their classes and administration refuses to enforce any level of discipline.
Students are allowed to come in and leave their classes at any time without teachers having any authority to do anything.
Students have made threats towards teachers and those students have been allowed to remain in the teachers classrooms.
The administration made a rule that prevents students from being removed from class, no matter how disruptive or disrespectful the students may be.
There are several classrooms that exceed the Department of Education’s guidelines for Special Education classrooms.
Students are able to walk the halls during class without any reproach.
Students are allowed to bully other students, while teachers and security have been forbidden from intervening.
One particular administrator consistently cites the failures of the school as teachers lacking behavior management.
Students can fight one another and return back to class.
Administration is not filing nor recording referrals being written by students. They are either being destroyed or sent back to the teachers. This is presumably done to reduce the number of documented disciplinary actions.
Administration has cited the fact that behavior problems have declined, this is not so, we merely have an administration that refuses to suspend and discipline children. This is why the disciplinary numbers do not represent an increase in behavioral issues.
We as teachers understand that every form of adversity cannot be avoided; however, we cannot teach in an environment where we do not feel safe, are not given our proper resources, and where teachers are constantly cited as being the reason behind so many school failures. MLK can best be referred to as a hostile environment. Students do not feel safe at our school. The environment is not conducive to learning.
Our specific demands are as follow:
We want students held accountable. Students who fight, disrupt class, and disrespect staff and students should be disciplined accordingly.
We want administration to work with teachers in resolving the schools issues, not putting the blame on the teachers.
We want to come to work in a safe environment that is conducive to learning.