Charleston, S.C.—Students at a Charleston County school were so racially hostile that some teachers say they preferred teaching in prisons or serving during the Vietnam War, according to testimony in the first day of a federal lawsuit against the district.
Elizabeth Kandrac and other white teachers have said students at the predominantly black Brentwood Middle School threatened and verbally abused them.
Kandrac is suing the Charleston County School District, saying her complaints of harassment were ignored by her principal and the district.
“I was treated with much more respect at Lieber prison than I would ever dream of at Brentwood,” said Elizabeth Wallace Jones, a former school nurse, said in testimony Monday.
Former teacher Edward William Mikell said he would rather “go back to Vietnam” than return to Brentwood.
But district officials say Kandrac was ill-prepared for the rigors of the teaching in one of Charleston’s toughest schools.
“This is a case about a teacher who couldn’t make it, who basically came up with another way to make some money,” school district lawyer Alice Paylor told the jury Monday. Paylor also said Kandrac’s complaints of racial hostility didn’t surface until after she was told in spring 2004 that she would not be rehired.
Kandrac, who is seeking unspecified damages, claims she was the victim of racial discrimination and harassment, breach of contract and retaliation.
Kandrac’s attorney Larry Kobrovsky called white former students to the witness stand to testify to their fear in the hallways of Brentwood. Kandrac also claims Principal Wanda Marshall ignored her complaints.
Kobrovsky, a former member of the Charleston County school board, said Brentwood was “a school out of control” and that he was embarrassed to repeat the language used by students toward his client.
Victorville—Victor Valley Union High School District teachers have been coached on a new approach to disciplining students that has some teachers shaking their heads in disbelief.
One teacher has stepped forward to air her concerns publicly, although she said she is concerned about how doing so could affect her job security.
“There is a cultural war going on and evidently it is going on right at this school site,” said Julie Behrse, an art teacher at Maverick High School. “It really is a movement, and now it has a name,” she added, referring to what Speaker Ray Culberson called the “new professionalism.”
At issue is whether teachers need to adjust how they interact with and discipline students who misbehave, particularly students from difficult backgrounds.
Culberson, director of youth services for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said at a back-to-school inservice meeting that students today have less respect for authority than they did when many teachers were in school and consequently, some teachers have unrealistic expectations of their students.
According to Culberson, many teenagers come to school with baggage from problems at home or other areas of their lives. Culberson described these students, who are prone to disruptive behavior, as “kids in chaos.”
The district superintendent, Julian Weaver, said Culberson’s message does not represent a change in district disciplinary policy, but Victor Valley has many students from chaotic backgrounds such as Culberson described, and teachers need to learn to interpret their students’ body language. When a student is visibly agitated, the teacher might not want to push any buttons by asking if he or she brought in homework that day.
“We need to see ourselves as teachers and adults in the classroom,” Weaver said, “but we shouldn’t see ourselves as dictators, where students see themselves as far less than the teacher.”
A teacher at Silverado High School, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job, said she understood Culberson’s message to be that teachers need to do everything possible to reach students and keep them in school.
When Culberson asked the audience how many times they could tolerate hearing “f-—you” from a student and said he could personally handle more than 100 instances a day, the teacher said she felt the presentation became a bit “off the wall.” A teacher next to her told her that she would not tolerate one case of swearing.
Teachers should never take anything a student says personally, Culberson said. He referred to a teacher’s personal “f-—you” meter, meaning the number of times a teenager swears at them before they would discipline the student. If teachers have a low tolerance for bad behavior and frequently send a student out of the classroom, the students will drive them crazy whereas teachers with a high tolerance will be able to calmly follow school procedure and still discipline the student, Culberson said in an interview. Maverick High School principal Beth Crane declined to comment on Culberson’s speech, but principal Tracy Marsh of Silverado High School said state law prohibits vulgarity and swearing in the classroom and allows discipline ranging from suspension to being expelled, no matter what background a student comes from.