Wichita teachers union leaders: District mishandled threat at K-8 school

Christa McAuliffe Academy
Christa McAuliffe Academy File photo

Wichita teachers union officials say the district is mishandling a recent threat against a teacher at Christa McAuliffe Academy, possibly endangering students and staff by allowing the student who made the threat to return to school.

District officials say they investigated the incident and “determined that no threat exists” at the southeast Wichita school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade.

According to a district document, a student who allegedly threatened to shoot a teacher was suspended for two days in late March.

Shirley Rose, the eighth-grade science teacher who reported the incident, has been on paid administrative leave since March 25. She said district officials have ordered her to either return to her classroom Thursday or become a permanent substitute.

“I don’t feel safe. That’s the bottom line,” Rose said Tuesday.

“I’m not the one that did something wrong here,” she said. “I’m the one who’s trying to provide an education not only to that student, but other students as well. And yet I’m the one who’s facing consequences.”

I don’t feel safe. That’s the bottom line.

Shirley Rose, science teacher at Christa McAuliffe Academy

In an e-mail sent to McAuliffe staff members Sunday afternoon, Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, requested additional security at the school for the rest of the year and urged officials to place the eighth-grader in an alternative program.

Wentz said the student had “physically attacked staff members on two prior occasions” and that district officials aren’t taking the threat seriously enough.

“We believe this case should have another close examination,” Wentz said in the e-mail.

“UTW believes ALL students deserve and should get a high quality public education. This student is no exception.

“However, there are times when choices made by an individual cannot take precedent over the majority,” he said. “UTW believes this particular threat crosses a line.”

Teacher threatened

Here is what happened, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Eagle:

On March 23, an eighth-grader at McAuliffe was in Rose’s science class when he held up a piece of PVC pipe and asked another student whether that student would like to “beat” Rose with the pipe.

Rose asked the student to give her the pipe. He refused and “began cussing and calling me several inappropriate names,” she said in the report.

Rose asked a school security officer and para-educator to escort the student out of the classroom and to an administrator’s office. As he left the room, the student “looked directly at me and said, ‘I’m getting a gun and shooting you, (expletive),’ ” Rose said.

According to the report, the student was removed from class “pending suspension and threat assessment.” His parents were notified, and a police report was initiated by the teacher and completed by the school, the report says.

The student was suspended for two days, the report says. He returned to McAuliffe last week, while school and district officials investigated the incident.

Wentz, the union president, said he requested the student be suspended for at least 45 days and transferred to the district’s Gateway Alternative program, a structured school for middle and high school students.

District officials told Rose and union representatives Friday that the request was denied by administrators in the special-education department, Wentz said.

District officials said the student would be allowed to return to McAuliffe but would have his backpack checked regularly, would be supervised and escorted in hallways, and would be removed from Rose’s class, Wentz said.

“They do everything they can to make sure they follow protocol, and they believe they have,” Wentz said. “But I also believe that it’s the wrong decision.

“Given the times that we live in and the circumstances that public education has dealt with, a threat like that should be taken extremely seriously.”

District protocol

District leaders said in an e-mailed response Tuesday that they followed district protocols and that “a plan has been created to assure safe and successful completion of the school year for the student involved, as well as the staff member.”

Wendy Johnson, spokeswoman for the Wichita district, said protocols for students receiving special-education services include requirements under federal and state laws. Some of those disciplinary procedures are outlined in a special education process handbook produced by the Kansas Department of Education.

“We have done everything we can do in the best interest of student and staff safety,” Johnson said in the e-mail.

“We will not take actions that violate state or federal laws when investigating an incident or implementing consequences. Nor will we violate those laws in order to satisfy someone unhappy with the outcome of a particular investigation.”

The district’s policy on suspensions and expulsions states: “Pupils who are a danger to themselves or others, either by their own actions or by engaging in weapons or drug offenses, may not be required to be maintained in their current educational placement.”

A section that applies specifically to special education students, however, requires that the team in charge of the student’s Individual Education Plan meet to determine whether his or her behavior was “a manifestation of the pupil’s disability.” If the team determines it is, the policy states, a hearing for long-term suspension or expulsion “shall not be held.”

Johnson, the district spokeswoman, added: “Just because the union doesn’t like the outcome of the investigation doesn’t mean it was mishandled.”

Just because the union doesn’t like the outcome of the investigation doesn’t mean it was mishandled.

Wendy Johnson, Wichita school district spokeswoman

Bill Faflick, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, sent an e-mail to McAuliffe staff members Sunday evening. In it, he said Wentz’s e-mail “did not accurately represent the situation which caused initial concern, and which had been fully and thoroughly investigated.”

“This was an isolated verbal incident involving one student and one teacher that occurred 12 days ago,” Faflick said in the e-mail.

“All district protocols were followed … and appropriate consequences were applied,” he said. “Based on the outcome of the investigation, we have determined that no threat exists for students or staff at CMA.”

Parents not notified

Mark Koenigsman, president of the McAuliffe PTO and the father of a seventh-grader, said Tuesday that he had not heard about the incident but thinks families should have been notified.

I don’t know what the district’s policy is, but as a parent I want to know. A threat against a teacher is a threat against the whole school, in my opinion.

Mark Koenigsman, Christa McAuliffe Academy PTO president

“I don’t know what the district’s policy is, but as a parent I want to know,” Koenigsman said. “A threat against a teacher is a threat against the whole school, in my opinion.”

Johnson, the district spokeswoman, said officials opted not to notify parents in order to protect the student’s privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a 1974 federal law that protects the confidentiality of student records and limits their disclosure.

“Because this incident was isolated, and because of the outcome of the investigation, it was not appropriate to inform the CMA parent community,” Johnson said.

Rose, who has a master’s degree and has taught in Wichita schools nearly 25 years, said she wants to return to her classroom but doesn’t feel safe as long as the student is at the school. But taking an assignment as a permanent substitute – known also in the district as a “roving teacher” – would punish both her and her students at McAuliffe, she said.

“I’m not trying to smear anybody. I’m not trying to get anybody in trouble. I want the situation corrected,” Rose said.

“There needs to be a more controlled environment for this student and a better policy in our district to handle this sort of thing, because this is absolutely ridiculous.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias