Slater Middle School teachers: We’ve had enough after violent middle-school melee
What teachers described as “absolute chaos” erupted May 4 during the Slater Middle School lunch period, the latest in what teachers and staff in Sonoma County’s largest school district say is an ongoing problem with safety and discipline across campuses.
During the Slater melee, a teacher and an administrator were knocked to the ground as dozens of students — possibly 150 or more — swarmed between fights and refused commands to break up, teachers said.
The altercation followed similar unrest during the morning brunch break, teachers said.
In the wake of those incidents, a team of veteran staffers who regularly volunteer to supervise students during brunch and lunch told Slater Principal Mitch Tucker on May 15 they refuse to continue until the district offers more adult support on campus.
Their ultimatum comes amid a wave of school violence and behavior issues that have engulfed Santa Rosa City Schools campuses even as the district has tried to quell disruptions in the wake of a fatal stabbing of a student in a Montgomery High School classroom on March 1.
‘Listening session’ postponed
Superintendent Anna Trunnell was to meet with Slater staff members on May 12, but that “listening session” was rescheduled after reports of a student being seen with a handgun at Montgomery on the day of the meeting.
No gun was recovered during the hourslong lockdown, but a knife wrapped in a T-shirt was found hidden in a classroom.
The listening session was rescheduled for Monday.
"Students and staff safety is very important to us,“ Trunnell said.
"It's not something that we're just planning for the future. It's something that we are managing every single day on our school campuses.”
After the events at Slater, Trunnell said she deployed three or four additional district workers to be stationed on campus. A district administrator will stay for the remainder of the year to support the principal, she said.
A teacher called the Santa Rosa Police Department about a fight involving hundreds of students around 12:40 p.m. and after the fighting had ended, said Lt. Christopher Mahurin, a spokesperson for the department.
He said the teacher asked about how to go about requesting a resource officer on campus, which is a district-level decision, according to Trunnell.
Police did not respond to the scene or take a report, but nearby officers were alerted in case fights broke out after school off-campus, Mahurin said.
Tucker, principal at the school since 2018, declined to comment and referred questions to Trunnell, who has faced increased criticism over the district’s discipline policies, which critics contend allow students who chronically misbehave to remain on campus.
“The first thing that I typically share with people is that we have to remember that they are children,” Trunnell said.
“It is the law that we provide them a free and appropriate education. And it is also our duty to help our students understand and learn from decisions that they are making so that we can keep them in school.”
When a student’s actions have risen to the need for discipline, Trunnell said, the district carries out consequences following state policy and couples that with restorative justice practices. Many of those consequences fall under privacy protections, she added.
Restorative justice relies less on punishment, like suspension and expulsion, while encouraging reconciliation through dialogue between offenders and victims of harm.
When it was launched 10 years ago, the district’s restorative justice program represented a radical shift in discipline policy after it was found that Santa Rosa City Schools suspended middle and high school students at a rate exceeded by only three other large districts in California.
And it was students of color who were being disciplined the most, according to data collected by the state Department of Education.
Nearly three times as many Latinos were suspended than whites, even though the groups made up roughly equal portions of the student population in middle and high schools. Black students, who represented just 3% of the secondary enrollment, represented 7% of the overall suspensions that year, according to the state figures.
District teachers have said restorative programs are deeply meaningful, but that more discipline and consequences are needed for the small number of students they call “chronic offenders.”
“It’s 15-20 (students) in a school of 700 kids, holding us hostage,” said Meaghan King, an 11-year veteran teacher at Slater and a representative of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.