Curbing discipline… or kicking discipline to the curb?

Student Code of Conduct set to change as district aims to curb discipline.

That’s the headline from Catalyst Chicago about policy changes happening in the Windy City’s public schools. And what I find really interesting about this is that the goal of the policy shift (which we’ll discuss in a moment) really is to curb the discipline activities of the schools, to “rein in one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates in the country”.

There’s been a great deal of discussion over the last year or so about the seemingly out-of-control nature of school discipline in the nation — almost all of it driven by the executive branch’s concerns about racial (and to a much lesser extent, sex) disparity in suspension and expulsion rates. But there has also been (at last!) some growing recognition that certain types of institutional discipline policies aren’t really all that productive in the first place, and may actually be at odds with the mission of schools. (Which, I take it, is at least ostensibly to prepare students academically and culturally for integration into the larger, adult society.)

So now, in the face of all this theory, we’re starting to see some solid implementation. So what’s going on?

Among the proposed changes:

–Elimination of the vaguely-defined “persistent defiance” as misbehavior for which students can be suspended or expelled. CPS officials say “persistent defiance” is used unevenly to justify harsh discipline, in some cases against students who shrugged their shoulders or threw pencils across desks.

–Children from pre-kindergarten to second grade could no longer be expelled without a network chief’s approval. In the past, only preschoolers and kindergarteners were excluded from expulsion, though records show they were still suspended.

–Another offense, “unintentional physical contract with school staff,” would no longer warrant suspension.

–Police would only need to be notified when students are found with drugs or guns on school grounds, or in emergency situations. The current policy lists 27 offenses for which police need to be notified, including participating in mob action and use of the CPS network to spread computer viruses.

–Unauthorized use of a cell phone would drop to the lowest category of offense.

Most of these seem to me to be quite commonsensical to me, and I’m glad to see that they’re being implemented.
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Bulletproof blanket — for $1,000

An Oklahoma company has designed a bullet-resistant blanket that's designed to protect children and teachers in the event of a school shooting.

An Oklahoma company is selling a bullet-resistant blanket — for $1,000 apiece — that’s supposed to protect students and teachers from school shooters. Cower with class!

ProTecht claims the Bodyguard Blanket can protect against weaponry used in 90 percent of school shootings.

Unsafe at any SPF

In Texas, which gets hot, a San Antonio school district won’t let students bring sunscreen on a field trip because it’s “toxic.” Also it’s a “medication” that requires a doctor’s prescription.

“We have to look at the safety of all of our students and we can’t allow children to share sunscreen,” said Aubrey Chancellor, a spokeswoman for the North East Independent School District. “They could possibly have an allergic reaction (or) they could ingest it. It’s really a dangerous situation.”

When we weren’t scared of chemistry

“In their mid-20th century heyday, chemistry sets inspired kids to grow up to be scientists,” writes Wired. “Intel founder Gordon Moore, for example, credits a chemistry set with sparking his lifelong interest in science (not to mention some pretty neat explosions along the way).”

Vintage chemistry sets show how attitudes toward science have changed, says Kristen Frederick-Frost, a curator at the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum in Philadelphia.

In the early to mid 1900s, there was growing optimism that science could solve many of the important problems facing the world, Frederick-Frost says. Chemistry kits reflected this enthusiasm, featuring what was new and exciting at the time: Plastics! Atomic Energy! Outer Space! It was common for the box of a kit to feature both an image of a young boy playing with the kit and an image of a scientist in his lab—the man the boy would grow up to be. “It’s about much more than chemistry, it’s about creating the ideal citizen through play,” she said.

Modern chemistry sets are obsessed with safety, writes Wired. “In one 1996 kit from the museum’s collection, the tiny vials of chemicals are just big enough to accommodate prominent warning labels.”

Another kit . . .  boasts on the box that it includes no chemicals. One reviewer mocked it as an “astounding oxymoron of a product” (to be fair, it does use chemicals, just ones you acquire for yourself in the form of household materials like vinegar and baking powder).

Some are trying to bring back more exciting chemistry sets. A Kickstarter campaign is funding “heirloom chemistry sets” modeled on a kit sold in the 1920s through 1940s, reports Wired.  “A competition sponsored in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $50,000 to a Stanford bioengineer who invented a a hand-crank chemistry kit.”

The Chemical Heritage Foundation has released a free iPad app called ChemCrafter that shows how to build a virtual chem lab and blow things up on screen.

It sounds . . . safe.

Threats lead to backpack ban

After several bomb threats, a New York high school has banned backpacks and sealed lockers. For the last two weeks of the school year, students at Wantagh High School will “carry their books and belongings in plastic bags, sign in and out to use the bathroom and submit to searches when entering the building,” reports Fox News.

One message on a restroom wall said: “Blowing The Skool [sic] up today no joke I’ve had it.”

More schools nationwide are banning backpacks and removing lockers in hopes of controlling drug and weapons.

“If a school is doing this in response to some sort of threat, it’s just window dressing to create a visual cue that there is a perception of increased safety,” said Ken Trump, a school safety and security expert. “It’s something that makes people feel safe, but it actually doesn’t make them safer.”

‘Walking school buses’ get kids moving

“Walking school buses” — kids walking home with an adult volunteer — are catching on from Iowa to Rhode Island, reports AP.

As a group of children walked home together from school in Providence, they held hands and played the “I Spy” guessing game. When they reached a busy intersection, an adult accompanying them prodded, “What’s the rule?”

“Behind the line!” they said in unison, as they stepped back from the edge of the curb and waited for the walk signal

“Walking school buses are . . . seen as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely.”

About a third of children who live within a mile of school walk to school, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. Walking is increasing.

In the baby boom days, we all walked to school — without an adult — from kindergarten on. Uphill both ways, of course.

 

Why teens drop out — and come back

Abusive or absent parents, unsafe schools, gangs, homelessness and teen pregnancy make school a low priority for some high school students, concludes a GradNation report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts. Many of the “interrupted-enrollment students” interviewed in 16 cities said “nobody cared” if they stayed in school.

A “caring connection” with an adult who can help with problem solving could keep many of these teens on track, the report said. It also recommended “fewer exit ramps” from school and easier re-entry.

Girl saves boy, faces expulsion

Sixth-grader Adrionna Harris saw a boy cutting his arm with a razorblade at her Virginia Beach middle school. She persuaded him to give her the blade and threw it away. The next day, she told a school administrator what had happened. She was suspended for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion. She’d handled the razorblade.

After her mother complained to the local TV station, the administration moved up the disciplinary hearing and cleared the girls record. She missed four days of school.

“She thought he would bleed out, as he was cutting himself, and there was no teacher in sight,” said Rachael Harris, the girl’s mother. 

Adrionna said she’d do it again. “Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him.”

“The way school officials responded led to a question of if the school’s zero tolerance policy went too far,” reports WAVY-TV.

Ya think?

Court: U.S. flag is unsafe at U.S. school

Flag T-shirts banned on Cinco de Mayo in Morgan Hill

Daniel Galli, Austin Carvalho, Matthew Dariano and Dominic Maciel and (not shown) Clayton Howard were asked to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out or go home when they wore them to Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill on Cinco de Mayo. (Julie Fagerstrom)

It’s not safe to display the American flag at an American high school, writes Eugene Volokh in his Washington Post blog. The Ninth Circuit Court upheld a California high school’s decision to forbid students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo because Mexican-American students had threatened violence the year before.

Under the Supreme Court’s Tinker decision, student speech may be restricted if “school authorities [can reasonably] forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” stemming from the speech. The earlier threats of racial violence justified the flag ban, the court ruled.

This is a classic “heckler’s veto” — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. “Heckler’s vetoes” are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker‘s “forecast substantial disruption” test, such a heckler’s veto is indeed allowed.

“Schools have special responsibilities to educate their students and to protect them both against violence and against disruption of their educations,” writes Volokh, a UCLA law professor. But what a sad situation.

Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

Live Oak High School students have learned a simple lesson, Volokh concludes. “If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers.” Thuggery pays.

Expulsion is ‘heartbreaking but necessary’

Chicago charter schools expel 6 of every 1,000 students compared to .5 for public schools, the district reported. “At three campuses in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which has faced backlash over its disciplinary approach, anywhere from 2 percent to nearly 5 percent of students were expelled in the last school year,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Expulsion is heartbreaking but necessary, argues Michael Milkie, founder and superintendent of the Noble schools, in a Chicago Sun-Times commentary.

Milkie and his wife taught in Chicago public schools before starting Noble 15 years ago. They saw a disruptive minority make it difficult to teach and learn. Their 14 charter schools are known for strict discipline.  

We believed that the best way to support students’ success in college, career and life was to run schools with a culture of high expectations and personal accountability. 

. . . We’ve made a promise to our parents that their children will learn in a safe, calm and focused environment. We promise that our classrooms and halls will be free from violence and disruptive behavior. We promise that we will socially and academically support our students while holding high expectations for them despite the many social issues they face.

Noble schools don’t have metal detectors, police, bullying or fighting, Milkie writes. Attendance and graduation rates are high and 90 percent of graduates go on to college.

Students “who threaten the safety and environment of others” are expelled, he writes. The network’s expulsion rate is about 1 percent per year.  Noble will not “compromise the culture and learning environment of the 99 percent of students for the disruptive 1 percent.”

The well-meaning campaign to reduce suspensions and expulsions may backfire, writes Michael Goldstein on Puzzl_Ed, the Match Education blog. If a school environment is “crazy,” teachers will leave. “Kids in the most troubled schools typically lack choice.”

Goldstein remembers heartbreaking expulsion decisions in Match High‘s early years.

Fritz was carrying a weapon which he said . . . was to protect him from gang members in his neighborhood, and he would never use it in our school community. We believed him. We had a clear rule, though, and he was expelled. . . . You end up thinking crazy things like “Should our students be able to check their weapons at the door, like a saloon in the Wild West, and pick them up on the way home, because the police in Boston are utterly unable to protect (minority) kids from gangs?”

. . . There’s part of an educator that thinks “Hey if that was my kid, and he had to live in that unsafe neighborhood, and the reality was that yes, carrying a weapon poses obvious risks (of escalation, of arrest), but also genuinely also serves as a deterrent so he can go to and from school without humiliation, what would I tell my kid to do?” It’s not always an easy question.

Schools should be clear about rules and consequences, Goldstein concludes. Let parents decide whether they want a strict or lax regime.

Many Chicago and suburban public schools aren’t reporting campus violence, despite a state law, reports NBC.