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Guest Column: School Board president responds to West Middle School incident

December 16, 2009

Editor’s note: The following column has been edited from its original form at the request of the family of the West Middle School teacher cited in this column. All references to the teacher’s medical history have been removed from the column at the family’s request. School Board President David L. Kelley has been made aware of these changes. The Rock River Times regrets any inconvenience.

By David L. Kelley

President, Rockford Board of Education

As president of the Rockford School Board, I feel compelled to publicly respond to a recent article by Joe McGehee of The Rock River Times (TRRT) regarding an incident that occurred Dec. 3 at West Middle School. I’ve investigated the incident, reviewing the Incident Report prepared by an assistant principal, the Employee Accident Report prepared by the employee/victim, the Supervisor’s Accident Investigation Report prepared by the principal and the Return To Work Form.

TRRT inadvertently allowed itself to be exploited by a group of disgruntled district employees seeking to mount a campaign calling for Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s removal as superintendent. One of Dr. Sheffield’s board-approved five explicit goals is “to hold adults accountable.” Some district employees don’t like that. Let’s look at Mr. McGehee’s article (as reported by Molly Phalen, teachers’ union president) versus what I’ve been able to confirm as the truth.

The sub-headline read, “Teacher trying to break up fight sustains injuries, resulting in trip to emergency room.”

Actually, the teacher drove himself to [get] checked out.

Phalen reported that a teacher at West sustained injuries after breaking up a fight between two students; and quoted as saying, “The teacher tried to intervene and stop the fight, but was beaten to the ground by the larger of the two students, which resulted in nerve damage to his upper abdomen.”

Actually, the teacher was shoved several times by the larger student trying to get at his intended victim, causing the teacher to fall. He was not “beaten to the ground.” …

Phalen continues, “This student only received a three-day, out-of-school suspension (OSS) for attacking a teacher.”

She did not mention that the student was also arrested and charged. Our discipline code and administrative guidelines provide for a minimum of one to five days OSS, plus arrest by police for any middle school student committing a first offense “staff assault.” Under the guidelines, a second offense may result in a maximum of 10 days OSS and recommendation for expulsion, at the discretion of the principal. The consequences for the offense imposed by the principal in this case were, therefore, consistent with board policy.

TRRT reported speaking with two teachers who were only willing to comment on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Let me assure the entire community that no one bringing specific information forward regarding discipline infractions being wrongly or lightly handled will suffer any “retribution.” This board will not allow it. We need to know the who, what, where and when in order to be able to investigate and determine whether policy is being correctly followed. This “anonymity-due-to-fear-of-retribution” issue is the “red herring” for spreading misinformation, unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo in –an attempt to undermine this administration’s reform efforts. The union has been demanding “impact bargaining” at every turn as we’ve been trying to improve teachers’ professional development and evaluation. We spend a lot of money to help teachers develop their classroom management and instructional skills.

Some members of the teachers’ union are obsessed with assigning out-of-school suspension and expulsion as the primary consequence for misbehavior. In the past, minor infractions such as skipping class, being tardy or dress code violations have drawn out-of-school suspension. That’s plain wrong, and that’s what Dr. Sheffield’s administrative guidelines were designed to correct. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in school. Out-of-school suspension is a poor substitute for teachers managing and engaging their classrooms. Contrary to the rumors they’re spreading, serious consequences remain for serious offenses. The second students caught with guns at Auburn last week will likely face the maximum expulsion allowed by law, two years.

David L. Kelley is president of the Rockford Board of Education.

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

One Comment

  1. Joan Wardzala

    March 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Good Grief. Dave Kelly is not denying the the injury of the teacher but playing the semantics game in order to take the light off the fact that there is violence in the schools. They continue to refuse to admit there is chaos and violence and I am afraid there is going to be a tragedy involving either a student or a teacher. Wake up Rockford!

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