Former Highline teacher says school suspension policy wrong; needs changing
By Jack Mayne
Former Highline High School teacher Jasmine Kettler has forcefully condemned the “out of school suspension policy” that has been cited by Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield as one solution to improving the school district’s low graduation rate.
“Something needs to change. Teachers need to feel free to express their issues without fear of losing their jobs or being undermined,” wrote Kettler (read her full blog post here).
Superintendent Enfield told The B-Town Blog that there is no reason for fear.
“There is never, ever fear of retaliation or retribution,” Enfield said. “That will not happen on my watch. I do not want people to feel they can’t speak out.”
“I am writing this because I think people care, but aren’t aware of the serious implications that come along with a one-size, fits-all strategic plan, without the necessary resources and funding or utilizing valuable insight from veteran teachers,” said Kettler.
“I am writing this because there was an article published that blamed the increase in teachers leaving on the new teacher evaluation system.”
That system passed here with a high rating, she wrote.
In her blog, Kettler stated her opinion that the suspension policy is producing a climate of fear for teachers and supporting the outrageous actions of some students. Kettler wrote the suspension policy “is absolute chaos.”
“I don’t think that the district office fully understands the implications of the policies put in place, because things are being swept under the rug and teachers are afraid to speak up …,” Kettler said.
Didn’t talk to Enfield
Enfield said Kettler never asked for a meeting with her and that Highline staff never needs to be afraid of being critical about district policies.
“I have an open door, open email, open phone policy and I always want to hear and very often hear concerns from teachers and staff across the system.
“There is never, ever fear of retaliation or retribution. That will not happen on my watch. I do not want people to feel they can’t speak out.
“I wish that Jasmine had come to me at some point during her time in Highline and shared this and had this conversation. She didn’t, but I have had conversations with Highline teachers on this very issue.”
The superintendent said she did not understand why Kettler did not get an employment exit interview because the district “goes out of our way to encourage exit interviews. I can say with absolute fact that we would never deny” giving someone who asks an exit interview.”
‘Extortion … harassment’
Kettler resigned this year and now is on a tour of Southeast Asia and Thailand at present. Her column was posted on her “Believe in Bangkok” website. The subhead of the article she published is a laundry list of problems she believes the “no suspension” policy suborns.
“Vandalism. Extortion. Burglary. Theft. Possession of Stolen Items. Discrimination/Harassment. Lewd Behavior. Inciting aggression. Gang Activity. Forgery. Fraud. Fighting (not assault). Disruptive/Unsafe Activity. Negligent Driving.”
Kettler says that is an “incomplete list” printed in small type on the “district behavior” form that teachers fill out when reporting incidents (click image to see larger version:)
“This list represents just some of actions that do NOT warrant out of school suspension at Highline High School, and a glaring reminder of my decision to leave,” she wrote. “I’ve seen the implications of this list, but just recently discovered that the district put it into writing, on a district form.”
She says she usually writes in an optimistic way, but “not this time.”
System ‘is broken’
Kettler says the Highline School District has been getting positive publicity of late, “which they deserve.”
“The successes of diverse students and staff who work tirelessly at school and often, at-home, in less-than-ideal living situations, is absolutely inspiring,” Kettler writes.
“But that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the bad. Inequities exist within our school district; ranging from unsafe facilities to transportation to hiring practices and more.”
She said not discussing the problems make it look as though things are fine but they aren’t.
“I have been part of the problem by not being more vocal in my opposition to the many inequities to which I’ve been exposed.
“The. System. Is. Broken.”
Increase graduation rate
She said that when she started teaching the Highline school board implemented a “progressive, strategic plan” to increase the graduation rate but that “eliminating out of school suspensions topped the cake.”
Enfield said the district has not eliminated out of school suspensions, but also uses in-school suspensions where problems are addressed in special processes.
Kettler asserts that while it sounded good to “keep kids in school, instead of sending them away,” it is not.
According to her, district staff were “being asked to work more, assess more, ‘discipline’ less, and compromise teaching practices in order to appease the district’s strategic plan.”
“I understand keeping kids in school,” Kettler wrote. “I really, really do, but the manner in which we are approaching strategic goals is alarming, at best, when dealing with behavior. Schools (and school districts) make up a mock society. Violence is rampant and behavior management is non-existent within our school community.”
Kettler wrote that as a teacher, “I am very proactive in my management strategies. I let students create their classroom expectations, so if they break a rule, they’re breaking their own. If chaos ensues, it is the result of their own behavior, and with reflection, they learn to both take responsibility for their role in a situation, and to self-monitor their behavior. In most cases this has worked very well.”
But Kettler wrote that there are “obvious exceptions to this management strategy, which include any illegal activity and any derogatory, discriminatory language and/or actions.”
But what the system did, she wrote, was to let students make up their own rules.
“When a student breaks the law, gets into a fight, uses derogatory language, is suspected of being under the influence, or any of the many behaviors I witnessed daily while working at HHS, there needs to be a consequence that is similar to societal expectations,” Kettler wrote. “I witnessed time, and time again, a complete failure at meeting these very-minimal expectations, at the expense of both our students and staff.”
Sent back to class
The students and the teachers felt unsafe at school, Kettler said.
“Fighting, harassment, and incited aggression are present during passing periods, after school, and at-lunch.”
Kettler said behavior reports written by teachers were “often modified so as to ‘protect the student’ and will often times not be reported at all.”
She said she wrote less than 10 referrals in her three years as a Highline High teacher, and remembers every one of them.
“On multiple occasions, the wording that I used was changed, the students were sent back to my class within the same hour, and there was no follow-through,” Kettler wrote. “I was always told that this was to protect the students.”
Once she said she was called a dirty name and the student knocked over a table and threw a chair at Yoga students.
“She was in my class the next day,” Kettler wrote. “When confronting administration about why she was in class, I was told that she met with the principal and they worked it out. Apparently their version of ‘working it out’ was having a meeting in which that student stood up, said “f*** this”, left the room, and slammed the door.”
“When she continued to come to my class that week, without addressing her outburst, my coworker stepped in and told her to go to the office, the student told my … coworker, ‘protecting your girlfriend, dyke?’
‘But since discrimination/harassment is not a suspendible action, she continued to show up to class,” Kettler wrote. “And the precedent was set that calling a teacher a c***, using hate speech, and throwing a chair was ‘shmeh’.”
Kettler said her goal as a teacher is not to punish students and not get them in trouble or to show power.
“My goal is to prepare students, to the best of my ability, to exist and excel in society. By not addressing behavior issues, we are failing our students. When the power is taken away from the teacher, students are going to push boundaries, people are going to get hurt and good teachers are going to leave.”
Kettler told of an administrator asking “what I did to contribute to a situation” it is “unbelievably insulting.”
She cited a number of other incidents, all illustrating angry, out of control students.
“What did I do that warranted a student to walk into my classroom, make a gun out of his hand, and pull the finger trigger towards my head?
“In that case, I asked that student to step outside if he was going to talk during classroom presentations.”
How about a student “flipping me off and yell f*** during a lecture? I refused to show his 20 second video that had zero educational value and multiple cuss words. Definitely my fault.”
Kettler said she was once asked if “I had a vendetta against these kids. The answer is a resounding NO! I care about those kids and their future. I didn’t ask to walk in on them smoking weed, but I did, and by not reporting it, I made it okay. I didn’t want to ruin their future, but I wanted to set societally-appropriate boundaries.”
She said that once a “19 year old student chased a freshman around the gym with a chair over her head, screaming ‘I’m going to f***ing kill you!’ This lasted for upwards of five minutes. Students were scared. My department asked, repeatedly that she not be allowed in gym classes. In a classroom, it is easier to monitor aggressive behavior, but in PE, she was a risk to other students. Our request was denied.”
Five months later the same student grabbed a girl’s head and smashed her head into lockers, knocking out her front teeth, then said to her, “if you snitch, I’ll f***ing kill you.”
Kettler said “a trail of blood led to the bathroom stall,” where the girl was hiding.
“The girl who was attacked spent the night in the hospital, and was sent on a redeye flight back to her home country the next day. Because my school couldn’t protect her,” Kettler said.
Quit or compromise
“Over the course of this past school year alone (2016), 23 staff members left Highline High School,” Kettler wrote. “One school. One year. 23 educators, student advocates, and public servants left within one year, and no one bats an eye. I am one of those 23, and it’s breaking my heart.
“One campus police officer quit because they are expected to compromise their integrity and bend the rules within the school system, which don’t coincide with the legal system. It’s inexcusable. I’ve felt unsafe at school on several occasions. The response from admin has been bureaucratic and final.”
While 23 people quit, Kettler says the “district is showing videos and statistics of a small increase in graduation rates – which is quite simply a result of the system enabling students into passing).
Exposing the ugly
“I have always been encouraged to tell my story,” Kettler wrote. “I’ve been told that people need to hear about it. So here it is.
“Something needs to change. Teachers need to feel free to express their issues without fear of losing their jobs or being undermined.
“I am writing this because I think people care, but aren’t aware of the serious implications that come along with a one-size, fits-all strategic plan, without the necessary resources and funding or utilizing valuable insight from veteran teachers.
“I am writing this because there was an article published that blamed the increase in teachers leaving on the new teacher evaluation system (a system that in which I passed with flying colors).
“I am writing this because even though I completed three exit-surveys, and asked for an exit-interview in each survey, I was not granted the opportunity. My three years at Highline High School and my experiences and my reason for leaving were not considered.”
Enfield said she did not understand why Kettler did not get an employment exit interview because the district “goes out of our way to encourage exit interviews. I can say with absolute fact that we would never deny” giving someone who asks an exit interview.”
Kettler said “sometimes it takes exposing the ugly, to appreciate the beautiful. There is so much to celebrate in education, but there is an ugly side to education. There is corruption, ignorance, and inequality. And I think we should talk about it.”
Superintendent Enfield sent out an email to school staff in response to Kettler’s blog post – read it here (PDF file).
NOT an excuse to vote NO on school bond
At the end of her post, Kettler included this note:
*This is NOT an excuse to vote NO on school bonds. The condition of the school largely contributes to the students’ perception of unworthiness and the accepted delinquent behavior. The physical condition of the school needs to be changed, along with the social condition.