PORTLAND, Ore. -- The On Your Side Investigators expose eye-opening details about bullying and behavior problems within the David Douglas School District just days after cellphone video surfaced of a vicious fight between two girls at David Douglas High School.
In the video, a girl punches another girl in the side of the head, prompting the victim to fight back, while surrounded by a crowd of students who appear to be cheering on the fight. The district suspended both girls.
On Friday, KATU poured through a Portland State University report published in 2012 that analyzes a conflict resolution program the district uses called Restorative Justice. After a one-year trial run, PSU surveyed attitudes at the high school and middle school to see whether Restorative Justice was making an impact.
Earlier Friday, David Douglas school officials finally responded to the On Your Side Investigators’ request for the district’s own numbers and analysis on discipline problems. The response included ‘Internal District Data’ which has not been posted through the Department of Education. According to the district, the number of students disciplined at least once this academic year is up nearly 6 percent.
With this new information from the district, we were also able to identify new areas for analysis, and correct or clarify some segments of the original report. Go here for those conclusions and in-depth look at how we arrived at our results. (pdf)
According to district spokesman, Dan McCrue, Restorative Justice uses a mix of student mediators, counselors, deans, parents, or other adult mediators to peacefully resolve any conflict at school and typically includes all students engaged in the dispute.
"Almost all of these disputes are resolved through mediation or other peaceful means," McCue said. "Bottom line, high school students are emerging adults, and they are encouraged to work through their differences as adults and with adult help. Suspensions are always a last resort. They occur when/if one of the students continues the behavior after going through all other steps, or if a physical encounter occurs."
He continued, "If both students are fighting with each other, both typically will be suspended. Fighting = Suspension."
However, PSU's report red-flagged several problems at David Douglas High School and Floyd Light middle school. Those problems ranged from lack of resources to serious concerns about how to handle "constant battles with unruly behavior."
Some of PSU's findings at David Douglas High School
*Any additional program that was introduced must not take away from the “existing energy in the school as they have no free time and cannot handle any more external programs.”
*In so doing, the program would have sustainability by “not adding anything else to our plates.”
*Also the program must directly impact the behaviors of students described as “repeat offenders” who continually created problems in the school setting.
*Responded to a prompt about school climate and change this year by stating that they felt it was about the same as it had been in the past.
*They described feeling overwhelmed, over-worked and out-numbered as a result of budgetary reductions of staff.
*They stated their belief that in the hallways sometimes students exhibited defiance because they knew that the teachers are out-numbered.
Remember, roughly 3,000 students are enrolled at David Douglas High School.
*Students did not feel that bullying was actively addressed by school staff unless someone reported it and then administrators came up with a consequence.
*But, they did not feel that the consequences really changed the behavior.
*They were concerned that sometimes students disrespected their teachers and they might get sent to the hall or security would be called to deal with the situation, but nothing changed in terms of the student’s behavior – they described this as a “repeating cycle.”
*Their primary concern was that the administration didn’t seem to have a way to deal with these negative behaviors and they gave a consequence but did not address changing the student’s behavior.
Those are some of the exact problems a David Douglas High School teacher revealed to KATU on Thursday. The teacher was afraid to be identified in order to protect his job.
"From my observation, it's like a revolving door. Kids go in, kids go out, kids come back. Just a constant - same kids, same issues," the teacher said.
However, McCue was quick to counter these claims.
"For every anonymous teacher you refer to as citing problems at DDHS, there are 20 who will tell you that overall the school environment is positive, that great things happen there every day, and that the vast majority of students are good kids who are not getting into trouble," McCue said.
Some of PSU's findings at Floyd Light Middle School
*Indicated that they felt that they had many more difficult students to deal with and less support to manage them.
*Disciplinary incidents were increasing and that they had “constant battles with unruly behavior.”
*Students were less responsive to traditional behavioral interventions and didn’t seem to care if they get another office referral.
*Students clearly knew that there were not real consequences.
*Teachers were highly concerned that the current system of disciplinary consequences did not change student behavior and was ineffective.
*Expressed concern about the preponderance of black students with discipline referrals.
*Did not have an adequate menu of responses for students with multiple behavioral referrals.
*Indicated school was not a “happy place.” They felt that their school was a “disrespectful place” in which “people are mean to each other.”
*Their parents did not feel welcomed by the school staff.
*Parent’s perception of the situation was that the school was a racist place.
*The climate of the school was described by the focus group students as being all about punishment.
*The current system (punitive model of referral, detention, suspension) lacked integrity.
*Rules were inconsistently or unjustly applied. The example of five days of detention assigned for gum chewing vs. one day assigned for tardiness was provided to illuminate this point.
The On Your Side Investigators spoke to a mom Thursday whose son attends David Douglas High School and tried for years to get the district to implement an anti-bullying campaign after she said her son was relentlessly targeted by bullies.
She did not want to be named for fear her son would be retaliated against. The mom said the bullying began in the middle school.
"I wanted to take him out of schools and transfer schools but he didn't want them to win," the mom said.
McCue however dismissed PSU's findings. In an email to KATU Friday, McCue's email read in part, "That study from the 2011-12 school year looked at the first trial run of a program now going into its 4th year. Its findings have no relevance whatsoever to how the program of Restorative Justice may or may not be working this year.
“Moreover, some of the comments you cited had nothing to do with Restorative Justice, were inaccurate (DDHS is within the city limits of Portland), or were made in the context of then severe budget cuts and layoffs. Again, the relevance to your story in 2014 is negligible. ..."
Lawmakers in action against bullying
On Friday, KATU brought its findings to Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who’s a graduate of David Douglas High School and whose kids currently attend.
"I can’t speak specifically to David Douglas; I haven't seen the video; I wasn't aware of the video," Merkley said. "But I am sponsoring legislation that is a safe schools act that is basically strongly encouraging schools to set up codes of behavior that address this issue of bullying because children do not learn in an environment where they have concern of personal safety."
What is the Safe Schools Improvement Act?
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts in states that receive ESEA funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion.
The SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. The Department of Education would then be required to provide Congress with a report on the state-reported data every two years.
Broad Support from Educators and Administrators
Numerous education, health, law enforcement and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association.
What is the current status of the bill?
The bill was reintroduced in the 113th Congress in the Senate by Sens. Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., on Feb. 28, 2013. In the Senate it was co-sponsored by Merkley, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. on March 14, 2013.
The bill provisions were included in the Strengthening America's Schools Act (S. 1094), which was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on June 12, 2013.