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Good teachers quit, blaming policies they say make it impossible to teach


Indian River County School District is losing good teachers who say emotionally disturbed and academically limited kids now are being mixed in with regular students, resulting in classroom disruptions that make it impossible to teach the rest of the pupils.

Two teachers rated “highly effective” – Bill Wood, a 30-year science teacher, and Bonnie Julin, a seven-year reading teacher – left Gifford Middle School because of the recently-instituted practice with the politically correct name “inclusion.”

Wood said he had been told by Principal Roxanne Decker that teachers and assistants who specialize in “exceptional students” – the PC name for emotionally disturbed, physically disabled and academically limited kids – would also be assigned to his classes, but that it didn’t happen. Julin said she asked Decker for the same support, but was told there was no money.

Both Julin and Wood said disruptions in their classrooms made it impossible to teach, and said they left their jobs to save their health.

“My doctor told me I’ve got to stop, I’m going to stroke-out in the classroom,” Julin said, whose last day was in mid-January. “This is a second career for me. I love teaching and I took to it like a duck to water. I’m really good at it and I want to continue.”

“I didn’t sleep last night, all the anxiety came back,” said Wood, who developed a heart condition that has eased since he took an early retirement.

“I pleaded with Principal Decker to let me continue teaching 8th grade science. I’ve been buying materials for that class since 1995. But she wouldn’t listen. She switched me to 6th grade. My 7th period had 11 ‘exceptional’ ed students and 8 gen ed students.”

No matter how many times an “exceptional” student was written up, there was little or no disciplinary consequence, Julin said, because administrators wanted “to keep the number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions down because it sends a red-flag to the state.”

The teachers said Principal Decker would flatly tell them, “It’s not going to happen,” when either of them requested a disruptive student be placed in the Alternative Education Center.

“I tried to get a 250-pound, 6-foot-4-inch 16-year-old student removed from my class,” Wood said. “He was aggressive and disruptive. He would shoulder-bump me, hard, and get right up in my face. Principal Decker wouldn’t remove him.

“Another student said, ‘I want to kill you,’ after I broke up a fight between him and another student. I took the threat seriously.  Another teacher overheard it, but I couldn’t get Principal Decker to take any action. I finally went to the sheriff’s office and reported it,” Wood said.

“I had two girls in one of my classes who had been sexually abused. They were not supposed to be given a male teacher,” Wood said. “One was eventually taken out of my class, but one was not. She was violent and acted out.”

“Ms. Decker told me at the end of last school year that I would be teaching all 6th grade lower-level reading classes,” Julin said. “I told her, ‘You’ll break me. I can’t do that.’ She said, ‘That’s all we’re offering here. You’re a strong teacher, you can do it.’ About five out of 22 students were regularly disruptive. I never got hit, but I was verbally assaulted.”

“One student, he wasn’t mine, came from another state. He was choking a little girl in the hall. We’re not supposed to touch them, but I said, ‘Forget it, he’s killing her.’ It took all my strength to pry off his hands. He got suspended for three days,” Julin said.

Disciplinary referrals, arrests and alternative-school placements are kept to a bare minimum to hide behavior problems from the Department of Education, Julin and Wood said.

District Public Information Officer Flynn Fidgeon disputed Julin’s and Wood’s account of the situation at Gifford Middle School. “Gifford Middle School utilizes the practices contained in the Positive Climate Code of Student Conduct. Students have been suspended and students have been placed at the Alternative School,” Flynn wrote in an email.

Julin and Wood said the breadth and depth of the academic problems are also masked for “exceptional” students.

“You are not allowed to give them an ‘F’,” the teachers said, “Because it also raises a red flag with the state.”

A school-wide letter emailed to all teachers states, “grades [are to] reflect what the student has had an opportunity to learn.

“Failure is not an option; however, there may be rare circumstances that warrant a student with a disability receiving an ‘F’ after careful consideration by the IEP team, school-based administration, and possible consultation with district personnel,” states the letter.

Both Julin and Wood said other teachers have not spoken out about the poor working conditions and learning environment at Gifford Middle School for fear of retaliation.

Principal Decker did not respond to a request for comment.

Both Wood and Julin asked for an exit interview when they left their jobs, but Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources William Fritz never gave them one. When Julin reported the lack of an exit interview at the last School Board meeting, Fritz said he sends out an online survey, which is anonymous, instead.

Superintendent Mark Rendell was asked to comment on mainstreaming “exceptional” students without putting supports in place for general education teachers, the lack of disciplinary measures, forbidding F-grades for “exceptional” students and retaliating against teachers who complain.

Fidgeon’s email was the only response. In it, he claimed teachers with “exceptional” students do receive support and that such students are given failing grades.