Parents with students at Washington Elementary School have received the results of an investigation into bullying and harassment at the school, along with a letter from Superintendent Phil Ertl outlining steps taken or planned in response to the findings.
The district contracted Waukesha attorney Lindsey Kraig to look into concerns raised by "specific parents regarding student behavioral issues" at the school, according to Ertl's letter.
The investigation followed the concerns of parents, who last year demanded a better school and district response to what they felt was an unacceptable learning environment. Two group meetings of parents with the principal and administrators were held at which some parents vehemently demanded improvements.
Kraig began her work in June and wrote that what she found most relevant were parental concerns about "inappropriate behaviors of a small number of students in the second- and third-grade classes" in the last school year. She noted that the problems she identified did not apply to the overall environment at the school.
Kraig said she was provided with emails from parents to School Board President Michael Meier and to Ertl, and spoke with those parents, along with former Principal Anthony Bonds, Director of Student Services Therese Kwiatkowski, teachers, and other parents. She did not interview students, but reviewed documents related to behavior, including student discipline logs.
School staff confirmed to Kraig that some students were subjected to name-calling, threatening language, swearing and invasion of space — including pushing, shoving, hitting and kicking — during the year, and were affected physically and/or emotionally as a result.
In addition, "the learning of certain third-grade students was impeded because of disruptive classrooms behaviors," including students repeatedly making noise, knocking over items on other students' desks, walking around and interfering with Smart Board lessons.
In his letter to parents, Ertl said staff training related to bullying and harassment would be held (it was held last week). The training was to include a district requirement to implement formal procedures under the district's anti-harassment policy when suspicions of violations occur.
Training also included the standard for special education referrals and removals, alternative placements and the procedures for suspending and expelling students with disabilities.
Other district responses include evaluating discipline guidelines at Washington, holding back-to-school meetings with those students who were in second and third grade last year who were observed as misbehaving so as to set expectations for the new year, and holding at least monthly meetings with the students who have been subjected to inappropriate conduct by the students in the second and third grades last year.
With the departure of Bonds, the school has a new principal, Tom Hanley, a veteran of the Milwaukee Public Schools. As longtime principal of Golda Meir Elementary School there, Hanley said he has dealt with problems of this nature before.
"This is very similar to Milwaukee Public Schools. In fact, the student population here is very similar to the school that I led for 15 years, Golda Meir School," he said.
Both schools bring together students of different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, both have a population of special education students, walkers and bus-riders — "a population of kids and parents from a wide variety of backgrounds," he said.
Ertl said: "I think the investigation provided us with a lot of good information that we can learn from, get better, and try to make sure that Washington and all of our other schools are safe environments for learning."
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