Outrage at middle school over suspensions, safety


Police responded to nearly 150 calls at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School on Girard Street last year alone. With a student population of 500, it's an average size school struggling with big issues.

Toby Cain is a former school security guard who was injured after telling a student to put his phone away. "He picked the phone up and threw it at me in front of parents, narrowly missing another child behind me," he recalled. The student was suspended for two days.

Martin Luther King Middle School is located in Visitacion Valley but serves many students from San Francisco's Bayview District. San Francisco Unified School District acknowledges that the school has had its share of challenges. "I was told that if I come back here as a concerned parent, that I would get the police called on me," parent Sandy Thompson said. However, a group of parents and teachers claims some students have been unfairly targeted. The teachers union says there were 80 suspensions last year. On that matter, the district said, "Student suspensions did increase as the administration began greater enforcement of expectations for student behavior."

The district has hired new administrators in an attempt to turn the school around. In the process, 17 teachers have been transferred. "Two masters, a BS, BA, an English credential, and I can't teach here?" Linda Cooks asks. She is one of those teachers. She says everything changed when she reported an incident where the school principal pinned a student down after being involved in a fight.

"Instead of those teachers being brought in for serious discussions with district staff with some oversight by the school board, they've been retaliated against, really in the most nefarious way. They went after their jobs," said Ken Tray with United Educators of San Francisco.

The district said it would not talk about personnel issues only to say, "Staff members have had a history of challenging administrators and enlisting disgruntled parents in attempts to drive out previous administrators." But the parents, backed by the teachers union, say they will continue to oppose the current administration. "Not only do they bully our teachers, our parents, but the most important person are the children," said school secretary Nancy Folauoo.

A few months ago, a report came out stating that suspensions are more common for minorities, especially for black students. That data was collected from early 500 California school districts and the findings were put together by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

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