April 13, 2001

Editorial

Dual Standards in Treatment of Students and Teachers At Sweetwater Union High School District

Recent events at Sweetwater High School, National City, where a science teacher recently "threatened to shoot" a student, makes clear that there exists a dual standard within the Sweetwater Union High School District Administration in the treatment of students and educators.

Science teacher Craig Balsley, on March 26, threatened, an 18-year-old Mexican-American student, Raymond Cortez, that "he would shoot him if he interrupted his science class." This threat from a teacher to shoot a student, in the aftermath of the recent shootings at Santana and Granite Hills High Schools, in the Grossmont High School District, were highly inappropriate and terrifying to students and parents. "It was a joke, stated Balsley. . . I was only teasing!" Balsley stated that "Cortez misconstrued his intentions."

A heightened sensitivity to the dangers posed by students bringing guns to the area schools, caused a zero tolerance policy to be imposed. Students, teachers and the general public were advised to report any and all threats made by students that indicated that he or she might be contemplating violence to their fellow classmates or educators. School administrators, the police, and the parents took such reports seriously. Many a school child that made threats was immediately handcuffed and taken to jail for interrogation. The bringing of weapons to school facilities became a one-way trip to the juvenile detention center and possible incarceration for long periods of time. Heavy penalties for the parents involved were imposed.

Zero tolerance within the Sweetwater Union High School District doesn't seem to apply when a teacher is the one making the threat. The National City Police were called to investigate the incident and they concluded "that Mr. Balsley had made the threat!" In a strange bit of logic, however, they determined that the teacher "had not meant it!" The school District spokeswoman said the "teacher responded with an inappropriate remark that was threatening to the student." Tellingly, she admitted "no action was taken against the teacher... he was not suspended nor fired!" The student (the victim of the proposed violence) WAS PUNISHED and withdrawn from class and sent home to complete his studies at home! The mother of the student has said "the school's response was horrible. If my son had made the same threats to the teacher, he would have been handcuffed and arrested." The Principal of the school said "we treated this just like we would have with a kid."

La Prensa San Diego raised the issues: Why was Mr. Craig Balsley, a coach in his regular assignment, assigned to teach a science class in a regular classroom situation?

Why wasn't Mr. Balsley immediately suspended while a thorough investigation was made by the school district?

Why were the actions by some school administrators taken without approval of the Superintendent?

Why wasn't the Board of Trustees immediately informed of this breakdown of leadership?

Why was there no one on site to assume the responsibility as Sweetwater Superintendent in the absence of Superintendent Ed Brand?

Why was the student punished? (Because he was Mexican-American?)

Why are there no protocols on how to handle these types of issues?

Why are teachers exempt from "zero gun tolerance" and why aren't they punished for making verbal threats to "kill" someone???

Because of the apparent lack of leadership at Sweetwater Union High School District a dual system of justice appears to exist, one for teachers and a different one for students. This example of injustice cries out for an immediate remedy.

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