Gerald Cantu

Dr. Gerald Cantu is Civic Engagement Director at the Dolores Huerta Foundation and Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at Cal State University, Bakersfield.

The implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in the Kern High School District, and the role of the Dolores Huerta Foundation in filing a lawsuit that was settled last year has recently come under attack. Teachers and counselors have beaten the drum about an increase in incidences of misbehavior on campuses, and have blamed both PBIS as such and the Dolores Huerta Foundation for the increased disorder.

The media hasn’t done a good job of educating the public about what PBIS is. So a few words may help.

PBIS is a discipline program with three tiers. In the first, schools set up a baseline of values and shared agreements and define the specific consequences that are applied to types of misbehaviors through a behavior matrix. Tier 2 systematically identifies and targets at-risk students, who engage in chronic misbehaviors, for behavioral interventions. These interventions becomes increasingly individualized and supplemented with social-emotional and therapeutic interventions in Tier 3.

Let’s be clear: The full implementation of PBIS at KHSD is going to take years. KHSD is legally obligated in its settlement to continue implementation of PBIS up to school year 2019-20, but it began a seven-year implementation timeline under Dr. John Eyler in 2014-15. KHSD has four experts who are presiding over implementation that are recognized professionals in their fields, such as Dr. Jeffrey Sprague, who is a co-creator of the PBIS program.

Furthermore, PBIS is not going anywhere. This is partly due to the lawsuit, but mainly due to the fact that PBIS is the best evidence-based program being used by schools around the nation to achieve the best social and academic outcomes for all of the school environment’s stakeholders.

In order to reap the benefits of PBIS, all stakeholders need to come to the table and to become engaged in the process of implementation in good faith. This includes teachers, parents, students, administrators, community based organizations and education experts.

It is understandable that teachers would blame the DHF for what is occurring in schools because we are the easiest target to focus on in all of this. (We don’t hear blame being placed upon administration or the district’s education experts.) We also recognize that teachers have a right to a safe workplace. If there are any issues arising from the way that PBIS is being implemented, then the district’s experts and administration should take that input and address the problems. This does not entail dispensing with PBIS, for it is a myth that PBIS is mutually exclusive with school safety. You can have both, and as a matter of fact, the best way to get an optimal school climate is through the full implementation.

For those who think that PBIS as such is the problem, I challenge you: What do you propose to replace it with? What are your solutions? To be sure, there is no returning to the status quo pre-PBIS when KHSD was the highest expelling district in the state and where 90 percent of those expulsions were due to non-violent offenses.

As to the claim that PBIS leads to decreased performance in Math and English and a dangerous school climate for teachers, made by Justin Salters in his April 24 column ("Enough! Our schools are not political grounds"), these claims have no credibility because they have no real evidence to back them up.

The reports Salters builds his case on are from none other than a right-wing legal advocacy organization/political think tank, The Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty (WILL), which is not a credible source and whose reports are recognized by none of the experts in the field. A generalist such as Salters can do none other than rely on the recognized experts within a field in order to substantiate his opinion.

To glean the evidence base of PBIS that is accepted by the recognized experts in the field — such as Dr. George Segui and Dr. Jeffrey Sprague (who is one of the experts hired by KHSD to oversee implementation of PBIS) — I invite Salters and other readers to visit PBIS.org. Under the research tab, Dr. Segui has provided a synopsis of the experimental studies that serve as the evidence base for PBIS.

What this evidence base shows is that PBIS is the best discipline program to achieve the best social and academic outcomes for all stakeholders in the school environment. It behooves all stakeholders to build atop this evidence base and to ask, “What can we do to support our administrators, teachers, and school personnel to fulfill the responsibility of educating all students at KHSD?”

Gerald Cantu, Ph.D., is education policy director at the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The opinions expressed are his own.