Teachers and a parent described to the Fresno Unified School Board on Wednesday night a troubling scenario on a district campus where students are out of control and face no consequences for violence, profane language, and other forms of misbehavior.
Leanna Bromley, who is in her first year at Wawona Middle School but taught previously in Los Angeles, struggled to speak as she wept openly. “Essentially, our school is on fire,” she said.
Bromley said neither teachers nor students feel safe at the central Fresno school because of physical fights, bullying, and profanity by students who face no consequences for their misbehavior.
She said that when she was a student she always felt safe at school, but “as a teacher I don’t feel safe… We can’t put out this fire by ourselves.”
According to Wawona staffers who spoke at the start of Wednesday’s School Board meeting, disruptive students are allowed to return to classrooms and continue to be disruptive, taking instruction time away from students who are in school to learn.
The school’s teacher librarian, Jennifer Agazarian, said she had considered the library a safe zone, unlike the cafeteria where bloody and violent fights have broken out. Her sense of safety ended the day of a book fair when a group of 30 rowdy students entered the library simultaneously, causing other students to try to find hiding places.
“This year is different than any other year,” she said.
Campus assistant Paul Viles, a security staffer, said he has been the target of racial slurs, including the n-word, by students, and consistently sees students roaming campus after the tardy bell has rung. Students who get a bathroom pass may stay out of class for 20 minutes, he said.
Why aren’t the teachers reporting the AWOL students? “I assume they don’t want them back in the room,” Viles said.
Son Transferred to New School
One parent said she transferred her 9-year-old son to another school because of the unrelenting bullying he faced. On his first day at his new school, “he was like a new kid,” Paula Andia said. “The weight was off his shoulders.”
The school also could face problems with staffing, as substitute teachers are leaving after one day and refusing to return. One retired teacher left midway through the day, a staffer recounted.
Teachers have tried without success to work collaboratively with school and district officials to resolve the issues at Wawona, said Manuel Bonilla president of the Fresno Teachers Association. Bonilla told the School Board that when he went to meet with teachers to learn about what they are dealing with, he was shocked to see so many of them crying outright.
Why did the matter have to come before the School Board instead of being addressed at the school level? It’s because “the system is broken,” Bonilla said. He detailed how teachers and union officials had prepared for a Dec. 8 meeting to talk with school and district leaders, but that meeting was abruptly cancelled.
Superintendent Bob Nelson said that the district is taking steps to address the issues raised by the teachers, including providing adequate support.
Bonilla said the problems of disruptive, misbehaving students isn’t isolated to Wawona but are also occurring at two other elementary schools. At one school that he declined to identify on the record, teachers are so concerned about retribution from the school’s top officials that they are reluctant to speak out on the issues, he said.