CONCORD -- Oak Grove Middle School English teacher Bethany Monk has been subjected to profane language, sexual harassment and abusive behavior that includes being struck in the head with flying erasers and paper airplanes launched by students.

Substitute teacher Rebecca Richter feared for her safety after students threatened her and one aggressively poked her in the arm repeatedly.

But when the two teachers tried to discipline out-of-control students by sending them out of the classroom, the school's administrators often sent the misbehaving students right back, which allowed the disruptions and abusive behavior to start all over again.

"As far as discipline, I went by the suggested strategy, which proves to be highly ineffective and does not at all promote zero tolerance," said Monk, who was hired in January to take over classes taught by substitutes. "The recidivism rate is very high for the students at our school who bully, harass and disrupt learning."

Last year, the school's 576 students were suspended 247 times, including 166 related to violence or drugs. The school expelled seven students, including one each for assault, brandishing a knife, and robbery or extortion. This newspaper recently ran a story about a student who was choked by another student during a P.E. class last month.

Both Richter and Monk say they are speaking out in hopes that something will be done to improve the school environment, which they consider unsafe and not conducive to learning. In addition, Monk said some students who need counseling and other services may not be getting the help they need.

Principal Lisa Murphy Oates, who moved to the district from Southern California in the fall, insists the school does not tolerate inappropriate behavior.

"We take pride in creating a safe school where students are free to learn and teachers are free to teach," she wrote in an email. "We follow appropriate disciplinary procedures for bullying, which include parent contact, suspension and, depending on the incident, a recommendation for expulsion."

The suggested strategy for dealing with disruptive students includes issuing a warning, detention, making a "support call" and calling home, Monk said.

Richter, who took over Monk's classes May 23 as a long-term substitute while Monk was on medical leave, said an administrator is supposed to come to the class and call a parent after a support call, according to the school's substitute guidelines.

But Richter said Murphy Oates returned disruptive students, including some who yelled obscenities at her. After four days that included several support calls and so many disruptions that it took that long to finish one day's lesson, Richter said Murphy Oates terminated her assignment, saying she was not a good fit.

The principal declined to discuss Richter's job assignment, saying it was a personnel matter.

The "support call" is aimed at intervening, then returning students to class so they don't miss out on learning, said Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support in the Mt. Diablo district. Students with ongoing academic or behavior problems are supported by a "coordinated care team" of administrators and teachers, she added.

The district plans to offer anti-bullying training to all administrators in August. The school is also trying to implement an anti-bullying campaign to create consistent discipline procedures.

Teacher Harold Munsell said the campus is in transition, with a new principal, more students and many temporary teachers.

"We've inherited several hundred new students from the closure of Glenbrook (Middle School)," Munsell said, "and that has caused us some issues, which the principal, I think, is addressing quite well under the circumstances."

The district has received a multimillion-dollar federal School Improvement Grant grant to boost student achievement over the next three years. Some of that will fund additional support for students and teachers, Lock said.

Oak Grove's problems
To see complete suspension and expulsion data, go to http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest. Select school level, "Expulsion, suspension, and truancy."
For details about Oak Grove Middle School and the Mt. Diablo school district's anti-bullying and discipline procedures, read the On Assignment blog at IBABuzz.com/onassignment.
Sampling of 2010-11 oak grove middle school suspensions and expulsions
Violation Expulsion Suspension
Physical injury of another person 0 38
Use of force or violence 1 19
Bullying and cyberbullying 0 11
Harassment, threats or intimidation 1 17
Possession of knife or dangerous object 1 1
Unlawful possession of controlled substance 0 5
Robbery or extortion (PDS)* 1 1
Assault or battery on a school employee (PDS)* 1 2
Brandishing a knife at another person (PDS)* 1 1
Total, violence or drug-related 7 116
Violence or drug-related per total enrollment 1.2 percent 20.1 percent
Total persistently dangerous expulsions 3
Overall total 7 247
District total 26 1,893
County total 329 9,453
State total 15,930 319,597
*PDS: Persistently Dangerous Schools designation
Source: California Department of Education