Teachers and parents of Everett Middle School students are speaking out against an administration they say isn’t supporting the children and doesn’t communicate about serious issues at the school. Multiple teachers say they have been assaulted by students, and punished when seeking aid in addressing the situation.
Parent Dheyanira Calahorrano said her seventh grade son reports doing nothing in multiple classes that are often staffed by substitute teachers. For months, physical education, for example, has often involved students shut in the cafeteria with a video to watch, she said.
As a result of the poor supervision, or unengaged substitutes, teachers and parents say students wander the halls and in and out of other classrooms, and fights break out frequently — between students and, on several occasions, involving teachers. Calahorrano said the administration often failed to notify her about violent incidents.
“The science teacher was out for four months, and I didn’t even know,” she said. “The principal never told us that.” It turned out the same thing was happening in three of her son’s other classes. Her son, bored, would complain, and ask about transferring to a better school.
More than the academics, Olga Reyes said she worries about her two sixth-graders’ safety when she sends them to Everett. With reports of violence and oversized classes due to missing teachers, Reyes said she’s afraid, and her children are, too.
“In fact, my daughter told me yesterday, ‘Mami, I left and the substitute didn’t notice,’” Reyes said in Spanish. “That worries me as a mother, because I expect my children to be in the classroom learning and not trying to get out of the classroom, right?”
Reyes said four of her children’s teachers have left during this school year, and her children’s friends are transferring to other schools.
Reyes said she doesn’t want to abandon the school or send her children across town; she just wants them to have a safe space and decent education. And, as a monolingual Spanish speaker, she wants the ability to communicate with the administration.
Everett is 70 percent Latino, with an immersion program hosting many non-English speakers. But Reyes said the principal, Esther Fensel, doesn’t speak Spanish.
Therefore, Reyes said, there are no parent conferences to discuss the school’s issues with the principal, causing frustration among Latinx families. Most teachers don’t speak Spanish either, so Calahorrano said her son ends up translating what the teacher says to his Spanish-speaking friend.
Both Reyes and Calahorrano said they have reached out to the district, and received minimal responses, if any.
It’s not only parents who are fed up: Music teacher Ethan Walker just resigned this week. He started in February, taking over for a monthslong vacancy.
He said he was hit by students in front of his classes, prompting him to wear a padded bike suit to work. He also said he received a gun threat, and was followed off campus by the same student that threatened him.
“The whole school is under a de-escalation policy, so no matter what happens, none of the kids are yelled at or told they absolutely must do this or they’re going to get suspended,” Walker said.
Though Walker said he agreed with the restorative justice policy in principle, he said when situations grew violent or dangerous, more was needed.
But the administration instead often tried to blame him, Walker said. And instead of reporting the assaults or allowing him to contact the police, “They completely covered it up,” Walker said, and avoided reporting the assault as a reason for a student’s temporary suspension.
Walker said he was barred from reporting violent incidents to the police.
Behavioral issues and a lack of support made it nearly impossible for him to teach effectively, especially in earlier days when he wasn’t allowed to close his classroom door due to Covid-19 concerns. One of the students who assaulted him was an unknown student from another class, Walker said.
After two months on the job, taking as much as a day off each week for PTSD and anxiety, Walker resigned on Tuesday. “I’m literally running to my next job,” he wrote in an email to members of the Everett community.
On Wednesday, Fensel, Everett’s principal, announced her resignation at the end of the semester. When Mission Local called the school’s main phone line on Thursday, the person answering declined to connect us with her and hung up.
The San Francisco Unified School District’s spokesperson Laura Dudnick said she was aware of the principal’s resignation, but declined to comment on the allegations in this story.
“SFUSD takes every report of a violent incident extremely seriously and has policies in place to investigate and respond when an incident occurs at schools, including Everett,” Dudnick wrote in a statement. “School staff are responsible for respecting the confidentiality of students and staff. Therefore, administrators are limited in their ability to communicate publicly about anything that may identify personal information about a student or staff member.”
Walker speculated that the Everett administration might have simply been “young and incompentent,” or was attempting to get more funding by showing a dire environment.
“They gave me several indications that they didn’t know what they were doing. So when I pointed out ed code and the breach of contract, they kind of looked at me blankly,” Walker said. “My heart tells me that they believe that what they are doing is the right thing. But they showed clear indications that they are doing the wrong thing.”
Yesi Castro-Mitchell, a computer science teacher and department lead who left Everett earlier this year after being severely assaulted, said she believed the administration avoided reporting incidents out of fear of having the school shut down for poor performance or high suspension rates.
At the start of the school year, she said, teachers were instructed not to officially document incidents in the classroom. “Instead, they asked us to text in Google chat if anything was going wrong.”
When she was introducing herself on the first day of school, a student got up and beat her so badly she was concussed, and now wears a hearing aid because she lost 75 percent of her hearing.
Castro-Mitchell said nobody warned her of the student’s special needs or history of behavioral issues. After the incident, she was encouraged to finish her classes for the day, and when the nurse said she had a concussion, Castro-Mitchell said the principal brushed it off.
Later, she said her doctor reported the incident to the police.
The school adopted what Castro-Mitchell called a theatrically antiracist approach, with good intentions, but she couldn’t imagine the district approved of the school not documenting harmful incidents. Leaving the school after five years broke her heart, she said, but after she was assaulted — and, she says, was retaliated against by the administration — Castro-Mitchell felt she had no choice.
When Castro-Mitchell pushed to have the student removed from the workshop classroom full of potential weapons like drills and saws, and eventually started trying to apply to other jobs, she said the principal threatened to report her and come after her teaching credential.
“The day that I left there were eight teachers out, almost a third of the teachers,” Walker told Mission Local. On Wednesday, the day the principal announced her resignation, an Everett teacher posted on social media that 13 teachers were out that day.
After remote learning during two years of a pandemic, and the academic and behavioral issues that resulted, many schools across San Francisco Unified are facing similar staffing shortages. But parents and teachers agree that the situation at Everett is on another level.
Parent Dheyanira Calahorrano said that when her seventh-grader’s classmates skip class, she tells him: “Yes, please go out, because you are safer outside than being in the [class]room.”
When there is a substitute or no teacher, like much of the time in her son’s music and physical education classes, she takes him out of school.