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A Letter on School Safety

Dear WEA Members,

This message is directed mainly at our colleagues at elementary schools in the primary grades, but I am including all of you in this email because the message can apply to all of us.
Background:  In recent years there has been an increase in the incidence of school staff sustaining injury due to violent student behavior, particularly from (but not limited to) students in TK, Kindergarten, and First Grade.  At the end of October, eighteen TK, K, and 1st grade classroom teachers from across the district met at the WEA office to discuss the issue of student violence and to brainstorm ways we can work together to address it.  Among the ideas recorded on that day were the following: 
  • invite school board members to visit our classrooms,
  • have people speak about the issue at school board meetings,
  • engage in a member survey on the topic,
  • dig more deeply into the data collected in the 2018 WEA survey on student behavior,
  • file an Association-level grievance on Article 15,
  • and develop a new plan for 2020-2021.
What has been done so far:  This issue has been discussed by WEA leadership in meetings with the Superintendent, school board members, and the district’s Director of Student Services (who oversees behavior and safety).  WEA’s Exec Board discussed whether it would be appropriate to file an Association-level grievance on Article 15- Unit Member Safety on behalf of all members.  Ultimately, we did not go that way for two main reasons: 
  1. The grievance procedure can be slow and can impede productive partnership between unit members and management, and
  2. There is an important clause in Article 15 we are pretty sure has not been adhered to with consistency:

“Unit members shall immediately report, in writing, cases of assault or verbal threats of assault suffered by them in connection with their employment to their site administrator or other immediate supervisor who shall immediately report the incident to the police and file a copy of the report with the Superintendent or designee.”

Call to action:  Here’s what we all should be doing now and moving forward.  Every incidence of a student causing or threatening to cause injury to anyone is to be immediately documented and reported. Staff at some sites have met with their principal to come to agreement about what this will look like at their site.  For now, can we all commit to reporting all incidents at the site level?  This issue is big and deserves to be addressed, and we won’t know how big it is until we get accurate documentation and reporting.  This reporting can’t just come from a couple of school sites — it needs to be consistent across our bargaining unit and across the district.  This will take courage and teamwork for us to address, but our students deserve a courageous response from all of us.  I understand that the school site principals will meet one week from today on March 17 and that they may discuss how to approach this issue at that time.  Between now and then, for those of us who experience issues with student violence, will you reach out to your site administrators and ask for partnership in documenting and reporting these incidents?  I am available to support unit members and site reps as needed by invitation. The next meeting of the WEA Faculty Representative Council is scheduled for Tuesday, March 24, and this topic (among other things) will be on our agenda at that meeting.
In supportive solidarity,
Jen Shilen, MA
Woodland Education Association