Teachers: Denver’s Soft Discipline Policy Makes Schools Unsafe for Us

Although discipline numbers appear to be better this week in Denver, according to teachers and education advocates, the cheery statistics disguise the real numbers. In recent months the Denver, Colorado school district has inaugurated a policy aimed at reducing the number of out-of-class punishments meted out to students, but as a result more students are now acting out in class – and there have been reports of some bringing guns to school and threatening teachers with few repercussions.

In a letter to the district, a large number of teachers – most of whom did not wish to reveal their name – outlined the problems they experience when walking up and down the halls of their formerly safer schools. Unfortunately, the letter did not elicit a response, leading many to believe that the district isn’t not worried enough about its teachers’ deteriorating work environment.

Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio interviewed Denver teachers who have described the changes in Denver’s school culture and how teachers are paying the price for it:

Teacher: You used to walk through the hallways and walk by the classrooms, and you’d hear teaching happening, or you heard students quietly working together.

Reporter: Now she doesn’t see much of that. In fact, she’s taken to wearing a mouthguard at night to stop her teeth grinding from the stress. And she’s afraid her job might be in danger if she lets us use her name. Veteran teacher Greg Ahrnsbrak has also started wearing a mouthguard  because of the turbulence he witnesses at his school on a daily basis.

Another teacher told the reporter that he lives under a threat that students will follow him home and kill him. On another occasion, a student threatened to bring a gun to the classroom while yet another promised to build a bomb and bring it to school.

Ordinarily such threats against students and fellow teachers earned at least a suspension, but no longer. Now the district has put pressure on the schools to keep punishments that take students out of class to a minimum.

The numbers seem hopeful – expulsions and suspensions in Denver Public Schools feel by nearly 38% in two years. According to Antwan Wilson, Assistant Superintendent, this means that Denver schools are getting safer.

Denver teachers disagree:

Reporter: Ahrnsbrak is one of two teachers who were willing to be identified talking about an issue he and scores of other teachers interviewed say the public knows nothing about.

Greg Ahrnsbrak: We hear over the radio security guards sprinting the hallways to answer a call for security in one of the classrooms or one of the hallways or on the playgrounds. We see students having to be restrained and strapped to a gurney and taken out.

Reporter: That’s because they’re violent and security guards can’t control them. Teachers in other schools – particularly middle schools – are reporting similar scenes: fist fights, kids hitting teachers and threatening students … and those kids are back in the classroom within minutes or the next day. It’s gotten so bad in fact, that a month ago, virtually all of the staff at Denver’s Morey Middle School, Bruce Randolph and Munroe Elementary schools signed a letter to the district’s superintendent calling for action. Teachers say there used to be clear consequences.  Fighting, cursing at a teacher – that led to automatic suspension.  But some thought the old discipline policy went too far.