Classrooms of chaos: Nearly 2,000 disciplinary referrals go unprocessed in CCSD school

VIDEO: Classrooms of chaos: Nearly 2,000 disciplinary referrals go unprocessed in CCSD school

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Documents from the Charleston County School District show thousands of disciplinary reports went unprocessed for an entire school at a CCSD alternative school.

Liberty Hill Academy is CCSD’s K-8 alternative program and day treatment center that has around 100 students.

For the 2017-18 school year there were 2,194 processed referrals, or disciplinary reports, for Liberty Hill Academy. For that same school year, there were an additional 1,721 referrals that went unprocessed.

The referrals include 348 incidents of major disruption, 175 threat incidents, 109 incidents of hitting, kicking and pushing students, 62 incidents of fighting, and 82 simple assault incidents. Those numbers were provided by the district through the Freedom of Information Act.

Liberty Hill Principal Chris Haynes said nearly 2,000 unprocessed referrals, not included the ones listed, is unacceptable.

“No, absolutely not,” Haynes said. “We have done a lot of work over the summer figuring out how we would do it differently this year.”

One of the students who went to Liberty Hill Academy last year was Cristell Wooten’s 13-year-old son.

“It was a very short amount of time because he was getting harassed from day one,” Wooten said. “There was not one day my son didn’t get hit, wrote on, teased, tripped, things thrown at him. Like every day. Every single day.”

Wooten and her lawyer requested camera footage of her son getting attacked during his time at the school, but never received the requested video. A judge called the district “grossly negligent” for not providing it.

“I failed my son when I sent him back after I trusted them. They said I promise we will make sure he’s safe, and nothing. It still happened every day. I felt bad for my son because I let him go back,” Wooten said.

Of the 2,194 processed referrals, there were 35 incidents of students hitting, kicking, and pushing teachers.

Live 5 News talked with a teacher who worked in the school during the 17-18 school year. That teacher didn’t want to talk on camera.

911 calls show give a glimpse into violence that occurred in the school.

“We cannot get a SRO officer to our location,” a Liberty Hill staff member said in a January 2018 911 call. “It was requested I call 911 but we have a student we cannot contain, and she has hitting staff I guess is what I should say.”

The caller went on to tell the 911 operator that the student was being held outside of the main school building.

“She’s in the lobby and we’re trying to keep her out of the school, but she was swinging staff, hitting staff and we’re having a hard time to contain her,” the caller told the 911 operator.

911 calls show this wasn’t the time a student resource officer wasn’t at the school during an incident.

“The student just hit the principal,” a Liberty Hill staff member said in a November 2017 911 call. “The principal just got hit. We don’t have any coverage. No police officer.”

That call came at a time when Wooten’s son was at the school.

“It is just not a conducive place for learning or being safe. Period. He would dread going to school. He would beg me every day to not make him go,” Wooten said.

Haynes said the school has made changes since last year.

The school has early dismissal one day a week to do staff training.

Haynes also said the school has hired two support staff members. One of those staff members is a behavioral interventionist that has a supervisor role over support staff. The other staff member is a lead special education teacher. Haynes said this teacher looks for alternative ways to discipline students.

“My philosophy is discipline is not supposed to be a punishment,” Haynes said. “It is meant to be a way to correct behavior, so that’s our goal and if that’s our goal we need some extra assistance and I think we’re getting that.”

Haynes said the school has taken measures to keep up with disciplinary referrals after having nearly 4,000 last year school year.

“This data shows that that is 22 referrals a day,” Haynes said.

Haynes also said they were short on staff members who are responsible for processing referrals. He also said with that many referrals coming in it’s a long paperwork process.

“An administrative team doing all the other things, observing teachers, talking to parents, community outreach, all that stuff that would take their entire day every day and still probably be behind in referrals. So, we went to teaching staff and support staff and said what do we need to handle immediately, what can we wait a couple days.”

With changes that have been made this year Haynes said he is seeing an improvement.

“I’ve seen more of our students leveling up through our leveling system and I think park of that is our teachers are feeling supported and they’re doing their job and they’re happy,” Haynes said. “I feel a happier environment here.”

Wooten’s son isn’t a part of these changes. She said her son had to go to the hospital after getting attacked at school. Wooten said that was the final straw.

“I told them I’m not bringing my kid back here,” Wooten said. “They did nothing, nothing, nothing to help.”

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