By Jack Mayne Former Highline High School teacher Jasmine Kettler has forcefully condemned the “out of school suspension policy” that has been cited by Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield as one solution to improving the school district’s low graduation rate.

Jasmine Kettler
Jasmine Kettler
“Something needs to change. Teachers need to feel free to express their issues without fear of losing their jobs or being undermined,” wrote Kettler (read her full blog post here). Superintendent Enfield told The B-Town Blog that there is no reason for fear. “There is never, ever fear of retaliation or retribution,” Enfield said. “That will not happen on my watch. I do not want people to feel they can’t speak out.” Serious implications “I am writing this because I think people care, but aren’t aware of the serious implications that come along with a one-size, fits-all strategic plan, without the necessary resources and funding or utilizing valuable insight from veteran teachers,” said Kettler. “I am writing this because there was an article published that blamed the increase in teachers leaving on the new teacher evaluation system.” That system passed here with a high rating, she wrote. In her blog, Kettler stated her opinion that the suspension policy is producing a climate of fear for teachers and supporting the outrageous actions of some students. Kettler wrote the suspension policy “is absolute chaos.” “I don’t think that the district office fully understands the implications of the policies put in place, because things are being swept under the rug and teachers are afraid to speak up …,” Kettler said. Didn’t talk to Enfield Enfield said Kettler never asked for a meeting with her and that Highline staff never needs to be afraid of being critical about district policies. “I have an open door, open email, open phone policy and I always want to hear and very often hear concerns from teachers and staff across the system. “There is never, ever fear of retaliation or retribution. That will not happen on my watch. I do not want people to feel they can’t speak out. “I wish that Jasmine had come to me at some point during her time in Highline and shared this and had this conversation. She didn’t, but I have had conversations with Highline teachers on this very issue.” The superintendent said she did not understand why Kettler did not get an employment exit interview because the district “goes out of our way to encourage exit interviews. I can say with absolute fact that we would never deny” giving someone who asks an exit interview.” Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 3.15.36 PM ‘Extortion … harassment’ Kettler resigned this year and now is on a tour of Southeast Asia and Thailand at present. Her column was posted on her “Believe in Bangkok” website. The subhead of the article she published is a laundry list of problems she believes the “no suspension” policy suborns. “Vandalism. Extortion. Burglary. Theft. Possession of Stolen Items. Discrimination/Harassment. Lewd Behavior. Inciting aggression. Gang Activity. Forgery. Fraud. Fighting (not assault). Disruptive/Unsafe Activity. Negligent Driving.” Kettler says that is an “incomplete list” printed in small type on the “district behavior” form that teachers fill out when reporting incidents (click image to see larger version:) img_5982 “This list represents just some of actions that do NOT warrant out of school suspension at Highline High School, and a glaring reminder of my decision to leave,” she wrote. “I’ve seen the implications of this list, but just recently discovered that the district put it into writing, on a district form.” She says she usually writes in an optimistic way, but “not this time.” System ‘is broken’ Kettler says the Highline School District has been getting positive publicity of late, “which they deserve.” “The successes of diverse students and staff who work tirelessly at school and often, at-home, in less-than-ideal living situations, is absolutely inspiring,” Kettler writes. “But that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the bad. Inequities exist within our school district; ranging from unsafe facilities to transportation to hiring practices and more.” She said not discussing the problems make it look as though things are fine but they aren’t. “I have been part of the problem by not being more vocal in my opposition to the many inequities to which I’ve been exposed. “The. System. Is. Broken.” Increase graduation rate She said that when she started teaching the Highline school board implemented a “progressive, strategic plan” to increase the graduation rate but that “eliminating out of school suspensions topped the cake.” Enfield said the district has not eliminated out of school suspensions, but also uses in-school suspensions where problems are addressed in special processes. Kettler asserts  that while it sounded good to “keep kids in school, instead of sending them away,” it is not. According to her, district staff were “being asked to work more, assess more, ‘discipline’ less, and compromise teaching practices in order to appease the district’s strategic plan.” “I understand keeping kids in school,” Kettler wrote. “I really, really do, but the manner in which we are approaching strategic goals is alarming, at best, when dealing with behavior. Schools (and school districts) make up a mock society. Violence is rampant and behavior management is non-existent within our school community.” Kettler wrote that as a teacher, “I am very proactive in my management strategies. I let students create their classroom expectations, so if they break a rule, they’re breaking their own. If chaos ensues, it is the result of their own behavior, and with reflection, they learn to both take responsibility for their role in a situation, and to self-monitor their behavior. In most cases this has worked very well.” But Kettler wrote that there are “obvious exceptions to this management strategy, which include any illegal activity and any derogatory, discriminatory language and/or actions.” But what the system did, she wrote, was to let students make up their own rules. “When a student breaks the law, gets into a fight, uses derogatory language, is suspected of being under the influence, or any of the many behaviors I witnessed daily while working at HHS, there needs to be a consequence that is similar to societal expectations,” Kettler wrote. “I witnessed time, and time again, a complete failure at meeting these very-minimal expectations, at the expense of both our students and staff.” Sent back to class The students and the teachers felt unsafe at school, Kettler said. “Fighting, harassment, and incited aggression are present during passing periods, after school, and at-lunch.” Kettler said behavior reports written by teachers were “often modified so as to ‘protect the student’ and will often times not be reported at all.” She said she wrote less than 10 referrals in her three years as a Highline High teacher, and remembers every one of them. “On multiple occasions, the wording that I used was changed, the students were sent back to my class within the same hour, and there was no follow-through,” Kettler wrote. “I was always told that this was to protect the students.” Once she said she was called a dirty name and the student knocked over a table and threw a chair at Yoga students. “She was in my class the next day,” Kettler wrote. “When confronting administration about why she was in class, I was told that she met with the principal and they worked it out. Apparently their version of ‘working it out’ was having a meeting in which that student stood up, said “f*** this”, left the room, and slammed the door.” “When she continued to come to my class that week, without addressing her outburst, my coworker stepped in and told her to go to the office, the student told my … coworker, ‘protecting your girlfriend, dyke?’ ‘But since discrimination/harassment is not a suspendible action, she continued to show up to class,” Kettler wrote. “And the precedent was set that calling a teacher a c***, using hate speech, and throwing a chair was ‘shmeh’.” ‘Unbelievably insulting’ Kettler said her goal as a teacher is not to punish students and not get them in trouble or to show power. “My goal is to prepare students, to the best of my ability, to exist and excel in society. By not addressing behavior issues, we are failing our students. When the power is taken away from the teacher, students are going to push boundaries, people are going to get hurt and good teachers are going to leave.” Kettler told of an administrator asking “what I did to contribute to a situation” it is “unbelievably insulting.” She cited a number of other incidents, all illustrating angry, out of control students. “What did I do that warranted a student to walk into my classroom, make a gun out of his hand, and pull the finger trigger towards my head? “In that case, I asked that student to step outside if he was going to talk during classroom presentations.” How about a student “flipping me off and yell f*** during a lecture? I refused to show his 20 second video that had zero educational value and multiple cuss words. Definitely my fault.” Request denied Kettler said she was once asked if “I had a vendetta against these kids. The answer is a resounding NO! I care about those kids and their future. I didn’t ask to walk in on them smoking weed, but I did, and by not reporting it, I made it okay. I didn’t want to ruin their future, but I wanted to set societally-appropriate boundaries.” She said that once a “19 year old student chased a freshman around the gym with a chair over her head, screaming ‘I’m going to f***ing kill you!’ This lasted for upwards of five minutes. Students were scared. My department asked, repeatedly that she not be allowed in gym classes. In a classroom, it is easier to monitor aggressive behavior, but in PE, she was a risk to other students. Our request was denied.” Five months later the same student grabbed a girl’s head and smashed her head into lockers, knocking out her front teeth, then said to her, “if you snitch, I’ll f***ing kill you.” Kettler said “a trail of blood led to the bathroom stall,” where the girl was hiding. “The girl who was attacked spent the night in the hospital, and was sent on a redeye flight back to her home country the next day. Because my school couldn’t protect her,” Kettler said. Quit or compromise “Over the course of this past school year alone (2016), 23 staff members left Highline High School,” Kettler wrote. “One school. One year. 23 educators, student advocates, and public servants left within one year, and no one bats an eye. I am one of those 23, and it’s breaking my heart. “One campus police officer quit because they are expected to compromise their integrity and bend the rules within the school system, which don’t coincide with the legal system. It’s inexcusable. I’ve felt unsafe at school on several occasions. The response from admin has been bureaucratic and final.” While 23 people quit, Kettler says the “district is showing videos and statistics of a small increase in graduation rates – which is quite simply a result of the system enabling students into passing). Exposing the ugly “I have always been encouraged to tell my story,” Kettler wrote. “I’ve been told that people need to hear about it. So here it is. “Something needs to change. Teachers need to feel free to express their issues without fear of losing their jobs or being undermined. “I am writing this because I think people care, but aren’t aware of the serious implications that come along with a one-size, fits-all strategic plan, without the necessary resources and funding or utilizing valuable insight from veteran teachers. “I am writing this because there was an article published that blamed the increase in teachers leaving on the new teacher evaluation system (a system that in which I passed with flying colors). “I am writing this because even though I completed three exit-surveys, and asked for an exit-interview in each survey, I was not granted the opportunity. My three years at Highline High School and my experiences and my reason for leaving were not considered.” Enfield said she did not understand why Kettler did not get an employment exit interview because the district “goes out of our way to encourage exit interviews. I can say with absolute fact that we would never deny” giving someone who asks an exit interview.” Kettler said “sometimes it takes exposing the ugly, to appreciate the beautiful. There is so much to celebrate in education, but there is an ugly side to education. There is corruption, ignorance, and inequality. And I think we should talk about it.” Enfield responds Superintendent Enfield sent out an email to school staff in response to Kettler’s blog post – read it here (PDF file). NOT an excuse to vote NO on school bond At the end of her post, Kettler included this note:

*This is NOT an excuse to vote NO on school bonds. The condition of the school largely contributes to the students’ perception of unworthiness and the accepted delinquent behavior. The physical condition of the school needs to be changed, along with the social condition.
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Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

15 replies on “Former Highline teacher says school suspension policy wrong; needs changing”

  1. I am glad this assessment is being aired here.
    I am a friend of her aunt and have read the entire
    blog through Facebook…

  2. My family has lived in Burien seven years and this description matches the unsafe reputation of HHS and why our daughter is in private school and will never go there. Don’t harm the student? They must learn there are consequences from behavior and choices they’ve made. If not now, when? An improvement in graduation rate is a statistical exception. See if it continues. We’ll support the bond regardless because facilities are pitiful and all students deserve a decent and SAFE place to learn.

  3. Teachers have spoken at many, many school board meetings since the Highline behavior policy was implemented in 2013 as part of the district’s strategic plan, asking and pleading for help with disruptive students in class. Disruptive students are sent out of the classroom only to be turned around and sent right back. One teacher at a school board meeting I attended was in tears pleading the Superintendent and the Highline board members to help her and the elementary school with a more practical system in dealing with behavior problems so she could teach the other 28 students in her class.
    Recently a large line-up of concerned Highline teachers spoke one after the other at a school board meeting about unmanageable classroom conditions and teaching expectations leading to mass teacher resignations. Highline District leadership has responded to teacher resignation as typical, so nothing to be concerned with.
    Adopting a school district strategic plan is fine and well, but it also means district leaders need to constantly respond to problems as they arise and tinker with solutions as a work in progress. It is the hundreds of teachers and staff that will implement a successful strategic plan. They are the soldiers on the ground. Highline must retain our veteran and best teachers to teach and lift our students.
    Teachers leave when they feel they are not heard and their concerns are not addressed. Our neighboring school districts are benefitting and happy to hire the Highline teacher exodus. Seems to me a Strategic Plan is just an idea. It is teachers who connect with, inspire, support and teach our children at school. It is time Highline leadership stop looking at teachers and staff as data, and work to value and retain the people who dedicate their days to teach and lift our children.

  4. Who cares if graduation rates go up, if the kids diploma is worthless and they never learned any discipline or self control in school.
    Without those 2 things they will never make it in the real world anyhow.

  5. Excellent post. Ms. Enfield needs to set any agenda she has in mind and follow the experienced teachers requests regarding excessive testing and graduation rates over safety.

  6. The environment described in this account is…I’m searching for a word. “Nightmarish” will have to do for now. Is this typical and representative? If so, are there no models from other resource-strapped school districts around the country who have dealt successfully with this? My God. It’s a wonder any teachers stay– and any kids learn– when they feel terrorized and terrified.

  7. I know of several teachers from HSD who either retired early or left teaching because of many of these same reasons. Disruptive behavior is a constant problem. My son goes to MRHS and his classes are disrupted on a daily basis. When I asked if security is ever called he said the students just laugh when security is called because they know nothing will happen. At the recent info meeting at MR, someone brought up the issue of disruptive students and the principal said “we really don’t have problems with that at all”. I had the same conversation with the former principal at Pacific a couple years ago. She assured me there are very few behavior problems. I can tell you that we know several families who have students currently at Pacific who are terrified to go to school. It’s happening at our elementary school too. This is a problem that cannot continue to be swept under the rug.

  8. “EVERY STUDENT in Highline Public Schools
    is known by NAME, STRENGTH,
    and NEED, and graduates ready for
    COLLEGE, CAREER, and CITIZENSHIP”
    We owe it to the students of Highline to show them what it means to be an upstanding citizen in the community. We can do this!

  9. Now one big issue I have noticed is some parents have stopped telling there kids No. Then when they they react with violence .Then there are some parents telling there little daughters they are princesses and will never do anything wrong. Then you also have the issues that have always been issues gangs and stupid kids that listen to gangster rap and think that the life they want to live.
    So maybe if some of these parents could put there phone away and tell there kids to put there phone away too sit down and have actually have full conversation for at least 20 minutes a day. This could make a difference in your child life and also getting to know all there friends and what there up to.
    Stop using the school system and after school programs as babysitter’s take time to participate in after school programs with your child don’t just drop them off and drive away.

    1. Sorry my auto correct mess up. When a parent refuses to use the word No towards there children. Then a teacher or other person with authority trys to tell them no or they can’t do something they want the child tends to act in a violent way. This is also a issue police are having to deal with when they unfortunately have run ins with these children or young adults.
      Now some parents think telling there children no limits there possibilities in life and are trying to take a social justice warrior approach of rules and laws are not needed and are racially motivated. Blah blah blah…….. Someone should report these parents to the child protection services. They are not fit to be parents in this day and age.

  10. The same scenario plays out at the grade school level. The exact verbiage has been used to explain why the same behaviors were excepted and even rewarded at the school I work at. The philosophy behind in- school suspensions might work if we were given the staff to support it. Last year we had whole classes in fear of their classmates, staff that was assaulted resulting in injuries. Staff were routinely called obscenities and verbally abused by students.
    We love all of our students but we are not given the support or resources we need to support all of our students in crisis.
    Exit interviews even when requested are hard to come by. I am not sure who is in charge of them but I am sure that with the exodus of so many great teachers from our district they are over whelmed. My children were raised in this district and I was very happy with their school and I felt they would be safe there. If they were still school age I would not let them attend in this district.
    Just a thought if we had less Administration at ERAC could we afford more support staff in the schools and facilities staff to keep the school buildings in better condition?

  11. Jimmy, you are absolutely right that disruptive behavior is a reflection of home life. The schools are in a terrible position because there are just too many students these days who don’t know how to behave. My problem is that there are still students who do know how to behave and want to learn, but with constant disruption it is making teaching and learning impossible on some days. The impression I have gotten when I’ve tried to talk about these problems is “go ahead and leave the district”. Teachers will acknowledge behavior/disruption issues, but none of the higher ups I’ve talked to will. I volunteer at my kids schools and am amazed at how desensitized the students have become to violence and bad behavior. It’s a disturbing reflection on society at the very least.

    1. Thank you neighbor there is also a issue of some teachers having a bit of a vendetta against some students especially when other family members have had the same teacher years before. I personally experienced this when I went to evergreen years ago. Some of these vendetta are not because the students where bad but because they have a disagreement with something the teacher said. But the teacher thinks there correct and the student is wrong. Then turns and punished the student in grads or in wright up’s to the office for bs thing’s.

  12. If I showed up at a school board meeting and used some of the terminology used in blog comments, made threats, rushed at someone of with a chair, I would be in jail. How long do you think it would take for hsd / burien police to have me in cuffs and removed (jailed).
    Would you take me out in the hall and say “don’t do that again” and let me back into the meeting? I think not.
    Why is there s acceptable behavior from students in our schools? This attitude is not working and has a great affect on those students that are interested is actually getting an education.
    So, the majority are subject to the few. Some individuals don’t belong in public schools.
    Let’s give them options for true skill related options and not try to make college as a goal for every student.
    I need qualified people to fix my plumbing, repair my car, work on my landscaping and many other services.
    How about the district get back to some basics, that I had at HHS – skills like auto shop, woodworking and metal shop?
    College is not for everyone and makes big that the ultimate goal does not help those that have other aspirations.
    Serve the students first, that should be you priority.
    Respectively,
    Scott

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