CHIMACUM — Parents frustrated with Chimacum High School’s recent approach to discipline told administrators during a well-attended parent forum Wednesday night that their students now fear going to school.
“Let it be known that we parents are not at all upset with rules being enforced,” said Joe Inciong, reading a letter he said was from a group of parents. “We are upset with the way they are being enforced as well as some of the rules themselves.”
More than 50 members of the community attended the forum in the high school library.
Inciong said it was staggering to see the changes that have happened during the first three months of school. He told administrators that there has been an abuse of power and that parents won’t stand down until their children can attend school without fear of harassment and intimidation.
“Respectful, consistent enforcement of school policy and state law is not harassment,” said CHS Principal Brian MacKenzie in response. “It is [Mark Gudger, dean of students] and I doing our jobs.”
Rick Thompson, superintendent for Chimacum School District, said during an interview Thursday that the parents’ message was clear.
“We have some work to do, I’ll admit that,” Thompson said. “This is something we need to work on.”
He told the parents that teachers had made it clear the district needed to improve its discipline delivery and rule setting and that the district needs to address its attendance problems. That led to the increased enforcement and new rules, such as restrictions on cellphone use.
The district has struggled with attendance, disrespect and cellphone use in class and in the halls, he said.
“Attendance and discipline have been prioritized,” he said. “Chimacum for the last two years has been four times worse than the state average [for attendance].”
A national study recently found that Washington state had the second-worst school attendance rate in the country.
Gudger told parents that this year there have already been 400 instances of discipline, including 101 detentions served by students who have been tardy more than three times. The school has 321 students and of them, 68 students have served those 101 detentions.
He said about half of the discipline is related to attendance, whether it’s students skipping class, showing up late or having unexcused absences.
“What I want from our kids is to be here, be on time and follow school rules and district policies,” he said. “If you do those three things, you’ll probably never see me.”
Gudger questioned whether a student should be allowed to film administrators speaking during the public forum — a public event that was listed on the district’s calendar.
“That’s enough for me, having kids film us,” he said after he noticed one student was filming. One parent called it a “perfect example” of how administrators talk to students.
MacKenzie said after enforcement was increased, student behavior improved. Last year, it wasn’t uncommon for 20 to 30 students to line up at the tardy window each morning “with coffees in hand,” he said.
“In school we’re training kids for life and there is not a job on Earth that you can keep if you are habitually absent, tardy, leave without warning, are disrespectful, are on your smartphone when you’re supposed to be working or when your boss gives you directions and you say ‘nope, I’m not feeling it today,’ ” MacKenzie said.
Todd Miller, a teacher at the school, told parents it was a staff consensus that the school needed to start enforcing rules. He said in previous years there wasn’t equal enforcement of rules and that students who were “particularly good at something” could get away with more than others.
“We have had issues here that have not been addressed for a long time,” Miller said. “The last three months have been some of the most calm hallways and interactions with teachers I have been here for.”
Sheri Shaw, a CHS student’s parent, told administrators that she feels the school is forgetting about positive reinforcement and she questioned if students feel like they have a relationship with the administration.
One parent told administrators they won’t see an improvement in attendance if students hate going to school.
Jon Moore, who said he is an uncle of a student, told administrators that it’s good to have discipline, but that he disagrees with the district’s methods.
“The way you’re going about it what the issue is,” he said. “I’m not hearing that kids are having a problem with teachers; they’re having problems with how they are being set up. They are treated unfairly and they are being badgered.”
He said the focus seems to be on discipline and that students now are afraid to do anything.
“You need to step back and not just look at the kids for discipline,” he said. “Something is going on and it’s not cool.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected]news.com.