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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Ukrainian refugee girl flees unsafe San Francisco school

Yana and her mother fled Ukraine and found a new home with an aunt in San Francisco -- until the 13-year-old girl started Marina Middle School in January. Bullied and robbed, she's quit school, reports Jill Tucker in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Students interrupted classes, jumped on desks, cursed at teachers," Yana told her mother and aunt. "Nothing happened."

The newcomer tried to avoid disruptive students, but she became their target. Her cell phone was stolen in the cafeteria, and the students she believed responsible threatened her. “They started yelling and cursing and moving toward her,” her aunt said. A counselor stepped in.

"The next day, Yana stopped going to school," writes Tucker. School officials offered her "a security action plan," which apparently included an escort in the hallways, but denied the family's request for a transfer to a new school.

Teachers nationwide say student violence has more than doubled since schools reopened, according to a recent survey. "Eighty-four percent of teachers believe current students lack the ability to self-regulate and build relationships compared to peers prior to the pandemic."

Concerned parents at Marina Middle School "have demanded more discipline," writes Tucker. "But punishment, like suspending students, doesn’t address the source of the behavior, officials said."

District officials are hiring social workers, nurses, community health outreach workers and other support staffers to middle schools, but Marina, which is understaffed, "won’t see those resources until next year."

Marina Middle has fallen into chaos, writes Tamara Straus in the San Francisco Examiner.

Teachers, counselors and security staff who have left or are still working at the Fillmore Street school report that recent incidents include students recording videos of themselves as they beat another student, three female students assaulting a special-education student, and a student bringing an air gun to school — all without documented suspensions at the time of those incidents.
Meanwhile, teachers and counselors report there are five to 15 students in the hallway much of the time while classes are in session. The students scream at teachers, throw food at each other and intimidate other students, some of whom are afraid to go to the bathroom.

Other city schools face similar problems, writes Straus. "Some disciplinary problems could be an unintended consequence of California’s anti-suspension mandate, designed to protect the state’s most at-risk youth and stem the school-to-prison pipeline."

San Francisco public schools were "among the first to practice restorative justice techniques," which focuses on reconciling offenders with victims rather than punishment, she writes. But implementation has been erratic. "It’s not always clear who is responsible for the behavior supports and interventions that make up restorative justice methods. Does it fall to principals, teachers, social workers, counselors, security guards?"

Harry Tupuola quit his job as a security guard at Marina in September. He and other current and former staffers say students are allowed to roam the halls without attending class.

“They pretty much control the school and can do whatever they want,” he said. “They don’t want to expel the kids because it looks bad for the admins. They try to transfer them or get them in special ed — you know, brush them under the rug and just try to deal with them til the rest of the year when they graduate, so they (the administrators) don’t have blemishes on their school record.”

“Many students in my class work hard and want to get an education,” said a teacher, who insisted on anonymity. “They want me to stop the kids who are constantly disrupting class, but I can’t. . . . We aren’t preventing those kids from going to prison; we’re just repeating the cycle of poverty and violence in a different way.”

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