YUCCA VALLEY — A letter from Kojo McCallum, president of the Morongo Teachers Association, to Superintendent Tom Baumgarten of the Morongo Unified School District spread across social media platforms last week detailing concerns from students and teachers regarding the administration at Yucca Valley High School and the state of the school as a whole.
“Teachers are concerned for their safety,” McCallum said in a phone interview with the Star Monday morning. “Teachers have the right to work in a safe environment.”
Teachers say they felt unsupported when they attempted to discipline students, he said, and students were cursing at and threatening teachers without any consequences.
“If someone at your job threatened to hurt you, pull a Glock on you, the last thing you’d want is your boss telling you you’re overreacting,” he said. “That’s what’s happening here.”
The letter also brought up concerns with the administration at Yucca Valley High School, saying that Principal Justin Monical was not active on campus and his assistant principal, Chris Fore, was dismissive of teachers’ concerns regarding disruptive students. It also said that LGBTQ students felt uncomfortable with Fore and noted that Fore had posted sensitive information on social media that made students uncomfortable.
Monical declined to comment on the accusations.
Fore has an active Twitter account, which is now private to anyone other than his friends, and on there he has shared several personal opinions about politics, including opposing a New York plan to provide free college for undocumented students. On this account, Fore engaged in an argument with former YVHS student Josiah Gouker, valedictorian of the class of 2018.
Gouker responded to the argument with an email to Fore that he shared publicly. He shared screenshots of some of Fore’s tweets and he explained why he believed they were inappropriate fore Fore to share publicly, considering that YVHS students were viewing these tweets.
“You are working with students from a plethora of varying backgrounds, some of which are only made more difficult to navigate the world when oppressive sentiments are echoed by someone in a place where they should feel completely safe,” Gouker told Fore.
McCallum’s letter brought up several other concerns, including male students threatening female students on campus, increased class sizes, students vaping in class, negative staff meetings, teachers teaching in areas they are not credentialed in and more.
MCallum said he drafted the letter after a meeting with a group of teachers. He originally planned to bring these concerns to Baumgarten in November but decided not to. However, at a recent meeting, he said he heard growing concerns from a number of teachers and decided to reach out to the superintendent for support.
“The letter isn’t representative of everyone in the school,” he said. “But if a third of your staff want to leave or quit or transfer to another site, then you know there’s a problem. At the very least that needs to be changed.”
The letter was sent to Baumgarten and the administration staff at YVHS. One of the recipients anonymously sent the letter to Z107.7, said McCallum. He clarified that he never meant for the letter to go to the public.
“I don’t do things that way,” he said. “I try to resolve things at the lowest level possible first.”
But now that the letter is out there, McCallum said he stands by it entirely.
“My goal for this is that things get better and teachers want to go to work every day,” he said.
Baumgarten said that since McCallum’s letter went out, he has received several letters in support of Monical. He scheduled a meeting with McCallum that will be open to YVHS teachers for them to share their concerns.
“I will be available to meet with any concerned staff,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.
The meeting will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. March 11 at YVHS.