Study: Chicago cuts suspensions, not safety

At the same time Chicago schools cut out-of-school suspension rates, students and teachers report feeling safer, according to a new study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

In the 2013-14 school year, 16 percent of CPS high school students received an out-of-school suspension (OSS), down from 23 percent in 2008-9. Still, 24 percent of high school students with an identified disability and 27 percent of high school students in the bottom quartile of achievement received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-14. Suspension rates for African American boys in high school remain particularly high, with one-third receiving at least one out-of-school suspension.

At the high school level, about 60 percent of out-of-school suspensions and almost all in-school suspensions result from defiance of school staff, disruptive behaviors, and school rule violations.

The in-school suspension rate has gone up sharply, the study found.

New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

Once upon a time …

In 1961, Dennis the Menace wore (toy) guns in the school play. Times have changed.

Texas boy suspended for magic ring


Bilbo Baggins finds the magic “ring of power” in the new Hobbit movie.

 After seeing the new Hobbit movie, a nine-year-old Texas boy told a friend he had the magic ring — “one ring to rule them all” — and could make him invisible. Aiden Steward, a fourth grader, was suspended for making a threat, reports the New York Daily News.

“I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” the boy’s father later wrote in an email. “If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.”

Bilbo Baggins, the hero of The Hobbit, uses the ring to become invisible in Tolkien’s book. It’s an asset.

Aiden already has been suspended three times this school year.

Two of the disciplinary actions this year were in-school suspensions for referring to a classmate as black and bringing his favorite book to school: The Big Book of Knowledge.

“He loves that book. They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed,” Steward said.

But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained.

So, Aiden is observant, curious and imaginative. No wonder he’s considered a dangerous character at Kermit Elementary School.

Walking alone leads to child neglect scrutiny

The day before I started kindergarten, my mother walked me and my six-year-old sister to school and back as a practice run. After that, I walked with my sister or with other baby boomer kids. Nobody was escorted to school by a parent.

After school, we might play at school or in the park or explore the ravines. We had to be home for dinner.

The Meitiv children walk in their suburban neighborhood.

The Meitiv children walk in their neighborhood.

Maryland parents are being investigated for neglect after letting their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter walk home from the park, reports the Washington Post. It’s about a mile to their home in a safe suburb, say Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

On Dec. 20, someone saw the children walking without an adult and called the police, who drove them home and demanded the father produce ID. Raised in the Soviet Union, he refused, but gave in when six patrol cars rolled up at their house. He agreed to go upstairs for his ID, Danielle told Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.

The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, “shots would be fired.” She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous the world is?” an officer told the father. “Don’t you watch TV?”

Montgomery County Child Protective Services threatened to take the children away if the Meitivs stick to their “free-range” parenting philosophy, writes Danielle.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

Child abductions are extremely rare, she points out. The children have been taught how to cross streets safely.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

CPS has demanded entry to the home without a warrant and interviewed the children at school while investigating the Meitivs for neglect. In November, CPS cited the parents for neglect for letting their kids play in the neighborhood park without supervision.

Both scientists, the Meitivs are educated, assertive, articulate and affluent. Call it Parenting While White. They’ve researched child neglect laws, which ban leaving young kids home alone but don’t say they can’t walk or play outside. They can afford a lawyer. And yet, they’re taking a risk by claiming their right to decide what’s best for their children.

Top 10 zero tolerance follies of 2014

Among Hit & Run’s 10 Outrageous ‘Zero Tolerance’ Follies of 2014:

A 13-year-old boy at Weaverville Elementary School in California shared his school lunch (a chicken burrito) with a hungry friend. For this, he got detention. Superintendent Tom Barnett explained, “Because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals.”

. . . A second grade teacher at Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School was suspended for four days without pay for bringing screwdrivers, wrenches and other shop tools to class, and demonstrating how to use them.

A 79-year-old substitute teacher in Claremont, New Hampshire gave up her job rather than “un-friend” about 250 current students on Facebook.

‘Circle up’ instead of suspension

A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, Calif.

A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California

“Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, restorative justice seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking and group dialogue,” reports Eric Westervelt on NPR.

Oakland Unified, a large and very diverse California district, expanded its program “after a federal civil rights agreement in 2012 to reduce school discipline inequity for African-American students.”

At Edna Brewer Middle School, the first year was difficult, but  this year, students are willing to “circle up,” says Ta-Biti Gibson, the restorative justice co-director. “Instead of throwing a punch, they’re asking for a circle, they’re backing off and asking to mediate it peacefully with words.”

A few years ago, the school’s alternative discipline program failed because of “problems with teacher buy-in, training and turnover,” reports NPR. The staff is “struggling” with restorative justice, says Principal Sam Pasarow. Some teachers want to see stronger consequences for misbehavior.

Eva Jones, 12, says there have been fewer hurtful rumors and fights this year.

“It seems easier now to, like, make friends with people, because people are less angry and defensive,” she says. . . . Last year, “there was, like, a lot of fights — like, every other week there was a fight. And now there’s, like, a fight once per year. ”

Well … not quite.

About a half-hour later, I hear some yelling. In the gym, pushing and verbal sparring has descended into a full-blown fistfight between a seventh-grade boy and an eighth-grade girl.

The program’s director, (Kyle) McClerkins, has pinned the boy to the gym floor.

After a weekend “cooling off” time, the school schedules a “harm circle.” The combatants — Briona and Rodney — attend with her parents and his single mother.

Rodney’s mother says she’s worried about his anger problem and seeking counseling.

Briona’s mom, Marshae, says her older son went to counseling for his anger. “He just turned 18 in jail. You don’t want to go there,” Marshae tells Rodney.

Rodney shows some remorse with a whispered apology. But his mom is not satisfied and wants to know what’s going to change.

“What do you plan on doing to make sure these kinds of incidents don’t happen again?” she asks.

Rodney pauses. He thinks for a moment and answers in a quiet voice. “Like, I don’t play with people and stuff, I won’t horseplay and stuff like that.”

Then Briona admits she helped instigate by yanking his backpack and teasing.

. . . It’s agreed as a group that the two students will have to write and post anti-bullying posters and do after-school service. And they’ll have to do joint morning announcements offering tips on how students can get along better.

Districtwide, suspensions are down by half in Oakland schools that have fully adopted the program. Absenteeism is down too and graduation rates are up. At two schools, “the disproportionate discipline of African-American students was eliminated,” reports Westervelt.

Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and other urban districts are trying variations of the approach.

‘The talk’ about how to deal with police

The act of scholastic disobenience was organized by Ines Anguiano, 16, a senior at Brooklyn Preparatory High School.Brooklyn Prep students walked out to protest (Photo: Caitlin Nolan, New York Daily News)

Eric Garner’s death — and a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who choked him – is a call to action for some New York City high school students, reports WNYC.

“This can happen to any one of us,” said Christine Rodriguez, a 17-year-old senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice. “I live in Bushwick, and on every block I see police cars. I worry about my friends, my peers, my family, strangers.”

Seventeen-year-old Malik James, who attends the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, is part of a youth leadership group that looks into policy issues.

“As a young black male who’s part of the demographic of those affected,” he said he felt “something between anger and desperation.” His coping method was research.

James has been scouring the Internet to understand the facts of the Garner case, looking for some sensible explanation for the grand jury’s decision. He’s hoping to figure out “what is it that I don’t know, what is it that I still don’t understand about the case, why he cannot get an indictment.” So far, he has determined that the system offers too many protections to police officers and that prosecutors are too closely tied to the police department.

Democracy Prep Charter High in Harlem stresses citizenship. Students told WNYC their parents had given them “the talk” about how to deal with the police.

Eleventh grader Jeff Agyapong said his mother warned him not to challenge the police.

“When police approach you, no matter what, don’t say anything, follow their directions no matter what because your parents will come down to the precinct and everything will get straightened out peacefully,” he said. “The contradiction in the black society is ‘should I stand up for myself because I know I didn’t do anything wrong?’ or ‘should I follow what everyone wants me to do?'”

“I don’t think black communities should be teaching their black boys to be afraid of cops,” Jaylene Paula said. “If we’re passive in these cases, then this passivity is going to encourage what happened in Ferguson and what happened in Staten Island.”

The parents of 16-year-old Anthony Ayba said, “They just think right now you need to be safe, don’t worry about your rights, just make sure you’re alive.”

Unsafe on Sesame Street

Sesame Street‘s early seasons come with a warning to parents: Not safe for today’s children. Producers cite Cookie Monster’s dietary choices and children shown riding bikes without a helmet and running through a construction site, writes Peter Weber on The Week. “In the opening scene of the very first episode, a young girl being shown around Sesame Street by a grown man, Gordon, who is not her father and is holding her hand.”

Weber highlights 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn’t show today’s kids, including Ernie’s encounter with an O-pusher. “Kids, if a strange man approaches you and starts to open his trench coat, run,” advises Weber.