More than 100 students walked out of Aptos Middle School Friday morning in a protest calling for a safer school environment and more support staff.
The action followed a Feb. 14 San Francisco Chronicle article that highlighted allegations of physical and verbal bullying at the school.
Parents on the sidewalk passed around what they said was a student-made list of demands for the school: fair rules and consequences, security guard training, crisis management and more therapists, social workers and nurses staffing its wellness center.
Nearly all in attendance seemed to agree that Aptos, which has one social worker and several counselors serving its estimated 1,000 students, needs more support. Some parents described reaching out to the district many times but seeing no improvements, while one sixth grader, who asked to remain anonymous, described watching fights and attacks on campus.
“We’re all here for the same reason, trying to make sure that all the kids here can grow up and thrive and learn, and the district is not showing that they’re looking to partner with us as parents in doing that,” said Garth German, a parent of two Aptos students.
But many members of the community — teachers, parents and students — were also unhappy with the depiction of the school and argued the media coverage had racist undertones.
“It’s upsetting for me that the article, in elevating a lot of concerns for me that resonate very strongly as a parent because I’ve experienced it, at the same time there’s a lot of dog whistle — racially coded language that portrays it as an integration problem, or problem with black and brown youth or maybe even racist parents,” School Board member Alison Collins said.
Bianca Woods, an Aptos instructional reform facilitator, also felt the coverage had “racist connotations,” but added that “the flat out frustration and infuriation felt by Aptos community members is that [the reporter] failed to include any of the commentary that was shared by the twenty plus staff members.”
Teachers and staff are trained to train and support faculty through “restorative and proactive practices” with professional development meetings and individual check-ins, Woods said. Three more meetings are planned for this year.
She also said visible change takes three to five years with any good business model, and given the new school administrators and teachers, the school is in year one.
Laura Dudnick, a spokesperson for the school district, said Aptos and district leaders have met many times with families and students and increased support since the school year began.
“We respect students’ and families’ efforts to bring attention to concerns they feel are unresolved, and we’re committed to continuing to work with them,” Dudnick said. “There are teams of staff at Aptos who work with students, and there’s ongoing staff training in Positive Behavior interventions.”
She said the school has a variety of wellness support and services, advisories and assemblies and has ramped up its supervision. Staff also undergo professional development that focus on restorative practices to support students, she said.
The district has also improved its behavior response systems to make the consequences of misbehaving clearer, and the reentry process for a student if a consequence removes them, she said.
“We have systemic ways to address culture and climate in schools and school safety, but they’ve never been implemented with fidelity across all sites,” Collins said. “And so it’s largely been principal based and school to school.”
Collins recalled being in a similar position to parents when her child attended middle school. She said she would reach out to administrators for support but received largely unhelpful responses.
“I think the administration with the superintendent’s office as well and the administration’s office need to do a better job listening to their concerns in helping address and resolve the issues at the school,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, whose child attends Aptos. “My understanding of the number of kids that identified as needing additional support is fewer than 10 students. So it seems very reasonable that out of a student body of 1,000 students that the district and the managing team there should be able to address the needs of fewer than 10 students to really help bring this community together.”
Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, an equity-centric education advocacy group, said “children,” and especially black and brown students, should not be blamed for the problems at Aptos and other schools.
“This is about how the education system, adults at school, SFUSD, and The City are behaving and not behaving, the choices they are making and not making,” the group said in a statement. “The toxic and unsafe school environment at Aptos, and at many SFUSD schools, is due to systemic issues, including the failure of SFUSD to implement social emotional supports for children in schools.”