CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - New plans are in the works after concerns were raised about a North Charleston alternative high school.
Daniel Jenkins Academy is a Charleston County School District high school that deals with discipline problems and special needs students. It also houses a day treatment center.
This school year, the Charleston Teacher Alliance fielded multiple concerns from DJA teachers who said they were lacking safety and support.
A deeper look at the school paints a grim picture where teachers suffer from physical and psychological injuries.
“This is a difficult environment, let's be real about that,” CCSD Director of Communications and Technology Andy Pruitt said. “But at the same time, great things are possible here. But it does require constant communication and looking at the different ways we can support our staff. And that's critical.”
Teachers anonymously told the Charleston Teacher Alliance that there were issues relating to structure and unresolved discipline, even noting the students are the ones who run the school.
"As you already know, the teachers at DJA struggle with the unresolved discipline,” a teacher anonymously wrote to the teacher alliance. “Teachers and students are well aware that there are no consistent consequences, and therefore, the students run the school. Over and over again, we hear the excuse that Special Education students cannot be disciplined because they only have a certain number of OSS days; however, I find it hard to believe that OSS is the only option for discipline. “
When it comes to discipline inside the school, of the 175 DJA student there were nearly 1,500 disciplinary incidents that were documented this school year. Of those incidents, some were criminal conduct violations.
Some of the violations were detailed in workers compensations claims.
One staff member said in a claim that he was kicked by a student, another claim said the staff member was thrown to the ground.
“Again, anytime there is a single incident. It you have to you have to act,” Pruitt said. “The understanding is that these school serves students that have specific challenges that aren't the normal challenges that most of our students across the district have. And so there are going to be complications. And we have to make sure that our staff has the training has the physical support to handle these situations when they occur.”
The claims also detail psychological abuse that staff members said they encountered at the school.
One staff member wrote in a compensation claim that she was being harassed and bullied by students and received no support from the district. The staff member also said she didn’t feel safe enough to go to work.
“While there are obviously going to be individual concerns that that that are concerning, I think there are a lot of moments we have seen over the past few years to address students who come from tough situations that prevent them from being able to learn and helping them so they can return to their home school and not just return to their home school but succeed at their home school,” Pruitt said.
In the anonymous comments to the Charleston Teacher Alliance, one teacher wrote that a lack of structure at the school is the main issue.
“It feels as though we do not have a strong administrator/leader presence, and therefore, expectations for students are very low. There are no real guidelines or rules for students to follow, or at least they are not stressed enough. I honestly do not think that students know what is expected of them at DJA. Because there is no structure, the teachers feel unsupported and unsafe,” a teacher wrote to the Charleston Teacher Alliance.
Pruitt said the district has analyzed the comments made to the Charleston Teacher Alliance.
“I think that was critical for the department of alternative programs and services to get in here and to really get that feedback, again, to look at the programs that were in place, what processes were in place, making sure everything was followed,” Pruitt said. So it's critical again to act on, on any input in any feedback, any concerns that teachers may have.”
This school year things will be different at Daniel Jenkins, with a new principal at the helm that aims to have staff involved and visible.
“My vision is to make sure the staff is visible. So that if there is a problem, that we deal with those behaviors before it gets to a point that it becomes impressionable,” Tawayne Weems said. Weems is the interim principal at Daniel Jenkins Academy.
Weems said he wants the administrative team to be visible and go into the classrooms to support teachers.
“I've been fortunate that supporting teachers is my forte. So supporting teachers working with them, letting them know that we're all in this together if there is a behavior, that it's addressed,” Weems said.
The goal Weems said is to get kids who come to this school to be able to reintegrate into their home school.