DESOTO – After Monday’s school board meeting in DeSoto, Superintendent Dr. Usamah Rodgers said she plans to get to the bottom of what led to a teacher protest over students’ behavior last week. The incident happened on December 15 at Curtistene S. McCowan Middle School in Glenn Heights, part of the DeSoto ISD school district.
Many McCowan Middle School teachers called in sick last Friday, which the district called a ‘personal day’ in their statement.
Some concerns are related to student behavior and the teacher’s inability to respond to that behavior due to constraints. Those who spoke at the school board meeting all appeared to want more communication and a better understanding of what was going on at McCowan Middle School.
A former McCowan PTA President, Tara Banks, read a letter from teachers; she was not allowed to finish it as she ran out of time to speak.
The letter clearly stated concerns with the disciplinary procedures at McCowan as they pertain to the consequences of student behavior and the safety of the teachers. The letter urged the district to get to the root of the problem.
Significant issues had to do with a perceived lack of transparency, and the letter stated, “The way individuals perceive a situation is their personal reality regardless of the objective truth of facts, and it is crucial for administrators to follow the chain of command. This undermines the professionalism and judgment of teachers on campus. In recent events, a student was let back into school after assaulting a teacher. The teacher was never notified whether the student was let back into school or what decision had been made about his consequences. The student was back in school and was observed by other teachers taunting this teacher. A large concern by many of the staff was the leniency taken on this student, and the excuse was that he did not need to hit the teacher.”
The incident occurred during district testing, and regardless of the intent, Banks said there are strict expectations for preserving the testing environment for all students. She noted this student’s actions were in direct violation and would be cause for a testing irregularity.
As noted in the letter, the teachers asked for “full transparency when dealing with student consequences.” Adding this will help prevent teachers from lacking faith in the administration.
The safety of teachers, specifically male educators, was also mentioned in the letter as a pressing concern. She said there’s an elevated level of aggression that male educators face.
A parent with a student in DeSoto ISD, Shontara Kirkwood, said, “The information that was sent to us as parents last Friday, we received a notice that our principal had been out for some time and that as parents we were not made aware of that. I think that as a citizen, as a mother of a scholar at McCowan, we should have been made aware that she was taking a leave; we didn’t know that.”
She also emphasized, “If it is our student’s behavior… can we start to consider closing our district as it was said years ago and it was said last year maybe we should not be an open district if the problems coming into our school system are from children who do not reside in our district in DeSoto and Glenn Heights. Our teachers deserve support. Our parents deserve support and to be informed.”
She suggested that some of the teachers who did not allow the students to mess around in her class could perhaps help the other teachers who did not have that skill set yet.
Bridgette Porter McCullum, a school counselor at McCowan, said, “We came from a village, and the village is no more; we need to bring the village back; that is my solution to all the problems and concerns. The children, I believe, are acting out for different reasons, and certain things have been taken out of the schools. We don’t have time anymore because we have to get ready for all our assessments and stuff like that. These kids are in middle school, they are still children, and they still get happy about children’s things.”
She added, “We have to pull together as teachers, parents, and staff members to raise these kids.” McCullum suggested parents and teachers come together and be involved in the PTA to help solve the problems and issues the teachers and students face. She pointed out they need help with problems like hall monitors, lunchroom monitors, and more and that teachers and staff are outnumbered.
Student Council Members Speak Up
The President and Vice President of the McCowan Student Council, both eighth graders, spoke. Focusing on the positive, they spoke together about the sense of community and how it enhances their learning experience. They also talked about specific teachers and how their efforts were making a significant positive influence in the classrooms. Finally, they said they believe there is an issue with some students and teachers. To address those issues, they proposed implementing incentive programs and programs to offer effective communication with teachers and students. “We would like to create a culture of empathy and understanding while improving the dynamics.’
A former counselor and teacher, Ms. Mercheson, added, “You constantly say at meetings that citizens can’t speak about a wrong if it is not their child, which is incorrect, and you can’t tell me I can’t tell you about it.”
Her thought was more long-term, and she wanted answers on what the district will report to TEA regarding the DEIC “because we have not accomplished anything. Nothing happens that benefits the district,” she said. She continued to say she’s come to many meetings to discuss discipline, and nothing has been done.
Former DeSoto ISD trustee Tiffany Clark also spoke, rounding out the comments.
She said Rodgers is the first female superintendent and believes the “scrutiny is unreal. If it was a male, we wouldn’t be having half of these conversations. Ask me how I know, and people still don’t say anything about the missing money and where that situation has landed.”
Her concluding thoughts were that everyone can be a keyboard thug, but what about signing up to be a volunteer “as a community we have to do better” the system has been corrupt for a long time. “The community doesn’t volunteer. The community doesn’t show up to meetings. How can school districts improve if the district doesn’t have parental support? to control the kids and support the teachers?”
“Over the next two months, my team will continue to review the review that we initiated months back to understand not just listen to the concerns that led up to last week’s event but also a deep analysis of student behavior and data at all district campuses,” Rodgers said. Results and next steps will be presented in the February school board meeting.