FOX 11 Investigates: Details about incidents, changes at Washington Middle School
GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Washington Middle School was thrust into the spotlight in June when sixth grade teacher Kertsin Westcott resigned.
"We are in danger every day that we show up to our school," Westcott told the school board on June 5, 2017.
Westcott had emailed her concerns to a school board member in May. Then she addressed the school board in June highlighting incident after incident at Washington.
"Just last week a student told multiple people at multiple times I'm going to shoot up everyone in this school," Westcott said.
FOX 11 Investigates wanted to know what happened at Washington so we filed an open records request with the Green Bay Police Department.
We received a stack of reports covering more than 130 calls for service at Washington. The calls are for more than two dozen types of incidents including: 12 calls for theft, 48 calls for disturbances, three calls for weapons, three calls for drugs and two calls for battery.
"Last year or two, Washington was a rough school," said Lt. Jeff Brester of the Green Bay Police Department. He oversees the school resource officers in Green Bay, including Washington Middle School.
"We've had more calls, citations and arrests in that school than any other school in the Green Bay School District last year so it did spike at that school and a lot of attention was drawn to it," Brester said.
In one police report from January, an officer wrote there are ".... many students..." who staff have "...behavioral problems with on a daily basis..."
Less than two weeks later, that same officer wrote in another report, "Kids skipping class and running around the halls..." "... is a large problem and has led to many other issues..." The officer also wrote that when confronted about their behavior, "the majority of them just say that they don't care..."
Tom Hoh oversees the middle and high schools for the school district.
When asked what to do with a student in sixth, seventh, eighth grade who just says, 'I don't care?' Hoh replied, "I think, again, as an educator, I've seen this phrase and I think it really speaks to that. In fact, I think I just saw it this morning. And that is, students that need the most love, often ask for it in the most unloving way. So, the student that says I don't care, the student that says something unkind to an adult, they're screaming out for someone to pay attention to them."
We sat down with Hoh to talk about the issues at Washington and how the district is handling the situation.
"When this information came forward in the spring, I don't think we had a really good understanding of what it was and what it was about and why it was coming out now. There just were a lot of questions that we had that required us to dig in and find out some more information about what was happening."
When asked if the district was aware of what was happening at Washington, Hoh responded, "The kinds of incidents that we're referring to and the ones that you have information on, those are things that happen in schools, again, not just Washington but all over the district and all over the state. My experience in other districts has been similar but I think what we see there is the frequency. It tends to be associated with students that are having those difficult experiences and traumatic backgrounds."
FOX 11 Investigates filed an open records request with the Green Bay school district to find out more about student behavior.
According to the data for middle schools, only Washington and Franklin had more than four-thousand referrals given to students for behavior.
But Washington had significantly more serious incidents according to the district, including 47 referrals involving student or teacher safety and 627 referrals for endangering behavior.
"The data around behavior is challenging for a number of reasons," Hoh said.
District leaders say one problem with the data is that the referrals were not always used the same way across the district.
But Hoh says incidents do seem to occur more often at Washington.
"I think frequency is the key. We have more kids at schools like Washington that come from traumatic backgrounds, whether it's poverty or whether it's mobility. Whatever it might be. We have lots of kids that are suffering and need support, extra support, Hoh said.
The big question is what is the district doing about it?
"There's a perception that nothing was being done about some of these situations, right? That when students displayed an egregious behavior we just turned a blind eye. When in fact, we had hundreds of disciplinary hearings for students across the district and students removed from schools," Hoh told FOX 11.
The district held 16 disciplinary hearings for students at Washington last year. Fourteen students were placed in a different school. Washington also had 685 out of school suspensions last year.
"It's important that people know in aggregate, that we're dealing with these situations in pretty significant ways," Hoh said.
What about this school year?
The district has added staff to Washington including an additional associate principal, another counselor, three more teachers and five new monitor to help in the hallways, bathrooms and lunchroom.
"The whole idea is if we've got a school where there's lots and lots of kids that are crying out for that help, we have to provide the adults that are skilled and trained to give them the support they need," Hoh said.
When asked why it took a teacher coming before the school board and quitting to make the changes happen, Hoh replied, "I wouldn't say that's what made it all happen. Again, I've been working in that school for a couple of years and every year we've added layers and layers of new resource, layers of new teachers and new administrators. I think this public version of this event caused us to maybe even do more than we had at a faster pace to really get people what they needed."
With all the attention at Washington, police are expecting an improvement.
"I think it'll be a better year but we're still going to have some issues and that's why we have the officer there," Brester said.
Brester says he and the police chief will be meeting with the superintendent and other district leaders every month to talk about issues throughout the district, including at Washington.
The district also plans to improve communication with staff and get more direct feedback about the safety and security at the schools.