Students and teachers demonstrating at the Clark County School District administrative building. (Photo: Carrie Kaufman)
This is what we know. A 26-year-old, second year teacher at Eldorado High School opened the door for one of her students at the end of the school day on Thursday, April 7. Jonathan Eluterio Martinez Garcia, 16, said he wanted to know about missing assignments. The teacher walked to her desk and sat down at her computer, looking his assignment info up. Martinez stood behind her, looking over her shoulder.
I’m going to stop here for a moment. The description is going to get worse. If you want to just skip the attack and go to the analysis, go to the heading “Analysis” three paragraphs down.
Martinez then picked up a phone charging cord and wrapped it around the teacher’s neck, snapping her head back. He choked her until she passed out.
He then, according to a police report obtained by Channel 13, and information I have obtained from others who have read the report, removed some of her clothing and sexually assaulted her with various objects while she was unconscious. Martinez toppled a metal filing cabinet and placed it on top of the teacher, then jumped up and down on it, at one point telling the teacher, “Just die already.” He only stopped when his mother called. The report said that the teacher played dead so he would leave.
Here’s the kicker. Martinez told the teacher, and authorities, that he liked her, he just hated all teachers and was getting his “revenge” through her. He also says he has no memory of what happened after he walked into the classroom. Though he did tell police that when he was leaving, he almost took her keys to lock the door from the outside, but decided against it when he heard someone in the hall. So he remembers something.
The reaction to this story when it hit the news last Friday and over the weekend was a rolling litany of “we need to do something,” while fishing around for someone to blame.
I get that. We were all stunned. Too many of us combined this local news with international news of air strikes against children and refugees and concluded that the world was broken. For a few days there, I was numb.
I have been told by numerous people in positions to know more than the police report lays out that Martinez was on nobody’s radar. He was considered a “good kid,” in the ROTC program at Eldorado. In fact, when he was pulled over by police later the evening of the 7th, he was returning to school with his mother to attend an ROTC banquet.
This is what terrifies me most: there may not be an explanation. There may not be anyone to blame. This may just be a good kid who snapped. Even writing this, I’m getting chills. With all the gang violence and post-pandemic stress while still over-testing, not to mention the teacher exodus, how the hell do we ever-keep track of which “good” kid is about to snap?
Brigid Duffy, who is the director of the juvenile division for the Clark County District Attorney, notes that often schools don’t know when a kid is struggling. The parents don’t have to tell them. Duffy says that even in cases of attempted suicide, there is no mandate to bring the school into the picture.
“The problem is, nobody trusts the school district,” Duffy says. “For good reason.”
She’s not talking about teachers. She’s not talking about staff or principals. She’s talking about parents, and sometimes local advocates who have seen retaliation against special needs and other struggling students.
What she describes is a school district that feels like a fascist state. If you go through without attracting negative attention, and do what “good kids” or “good teachers” are supposed to do according to some predefined rubric, then you will get through it. If you attract negative attention, you will be targeted. Better to push it down.
But you know what happens when you push things down – it just seeps out elsewhere, or the pressure builds so much, it explodes.
We do not know what Martinez’ family knew, or what he was struggling with. But he definitely exploded.
Close that barn door!
The community outcry over the attack prompted Supt. Jesus Jara and the Clark County Education Association to hold a press conference on Tuesday – their second in two weeks on school safety. They outlined how they were going to close the barn door now that all the horses were galloping around the fields.
They are going to get panic buttons for teachers. It’s not clear how they would work. You can’t put the buttons on a lanyard, because that could become a weapon to strangle someone. Currently, panic buttons are hard-wired in classrooms, but many schools don’t use them because there’s no one staffed at the other end. However they do it, this will take a little while to order and distribute. They are going to upgrade cameras in schools, or supply cameras to schools that don’t have them. But schools like Hickey Elementary have been trying to upgrade their blurry, 16-year-old cameras for almost a year, paid for with carryover funds that Jara and his team keep lamenting isn’t spent. The district keeps stalling the approval of the roughly $100,000 purchase. I even heard of one school that bought a Ring system rather than go through the process of getting approval to spend the money they’ve saved for district-approved cameras.
The most absurd moment of the press conference was when Jara said principals will hold assemblies on Tuesday to read students the code of conduct. I’m sure that will stop all the violence.
Principals will have a lot of responsibilities to close these various barn doors. Which is why it’s striking that no principal was officially invited to the press conference. The Clark County Association of School Administrators (CCASA) had no clue the press conference was even happening.
How the hell do you make a plan that relies on a certain set of people without asking that set of people to help make the plan?
Teachers speak out
The hastily called press conference may have been an attempt to get in front of a teachers rally that was to be held the next day in front of CCSD’s main headquarters on Sahara. If that was the intention, it failed miserably. The press conference was desultory, and offered no real answers. The protest the next day was lively and angry and attracted a couple hundred people. It was put together by a group of teachers who regularly come to board meetings – Vicki Kreidel, Alexis Salt, Karlana Kulseth, Sarah Comroe, Jamie Tadrzynski, Ryan Fromoltz. They not only demanded that something be done about the violence, they put forward a short-term and long-term action plan to do it. This was eaten up by a local press that is tired of Jara speaking without saying anything.
The short-term goals include making sure all intercoms/classroom buttons and phones are working in each classroom in the district; all cameras currently installed – blurry or not – must be turned on and working; all teachers should be trained immediately on how to stop fights; all schools must create a safety plan, then implement it and post it on their school websites. I should note that last goal is actually required under state law.
Long term, the teachers want to revisit the new grading policy, and create one with input from teachers from all over the district. These teachers are also asking for staff to be trained in the new grading policy before it’s implemented. Perhaps the reason the current new grading policy is failing is because it was dropped with no meaningful training with teachers who were already overworked, trying to remediate kids who had missed a year and a half of school while also teaching them on grade level.
Did you know that a 5th grade teacher cannot teach 3rd grade material? Even if most of their class effectively stopped learning in 3rd grade? They are prohibited from meeting students where they’re at, and are instead required – even in this post-pandemic era – to teach them where they are supposed to be.
Teachers also demanded the district actually implement a restorative justice plan, as required by law. A few weeks ago, Assistant Superintendent of Education Services John Anzalone and Chief College, Career and Equity officer Mike Barton told CCSD Trustees that restorative justice was going to take at least a year to implement – even though the law was passed in 2019. Right now, though, close to 100 principals, teachers and school counselors have told me they have been told by their superiors that they just have to stop expelling and suspending kids so their numbers will look better – so the public won’t know that they are not implementing the restorative justice law.
Green Valley principal Kent Roberts told me it’s like telling officers to make speeding ticket data look better by not writing any more tickets – effectively doing nothing about the people speeding through a school zone.
The restorative justice law does not prohibit suspensions or expulsions or any other consequence, as teacher Vicki Kreidel pointed out at Wednesday’s protest.
I’m going to explore that next week, along with how listening and other social/emotional techniques might have led us down a different post-pandemic road. For now – and I know this may sound like a canned sign-off – I am going to ask that we try to step back from the anger that has enveloped us as a culture and try to give each other some grace. I hope that come Tuesday school principals don’t just read the code of conduct and wag their fingers. I hope they tell their teachers to sit and talk to their students. Core learning be damned.
Note: This story was updated to reflect that school is restarting on Tuesday, not Monday, as Jara mistakenly said in the press conference.
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