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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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.”

Honor student expelled for science project

A chemistry-loving, cello-playing honor student was expelled and charged with two felonies for her science project. Kiera Wilmot wanted to demonstrate a chemical reaction simulating a volcanic eruption. The Florida girl was charged with bringing an explosive device to school and discharging it.

She is a good kid,” said Bartow High School principal Ron Pritchard. “She has never been in trouble before. Ever.”

Kiera was sent to an “opportunity center” with easy classes and no homework, she wrote in the Huffington Post.

Prosecutors dropped the charges, but it will take five years to clear her record. That could interfere with her dreams of earning a degree “in technology design and engineering.” She wants “a career building robots that can do tasks like surgeries or driving cars.”

Opposition to “zero tolerance” policies continues to grow, reports Reason. The School Discipline Consensus Report  by the Council of State Governments Justice Center recommends scaling back suspensions and expulsions “handed down by school administrators over minor and even accidental rule infractions.”

Teacher suspended for kids’ science projects

A Los Angeles teacher was suspended because two students’ science fair projects shot dealt with shooting projectiles, reports the LA Times.

Students and parents have rallied around Greg Schiller after his suspension, with pay, from the Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts, a very expensive new high school in downtown LA.

One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)

Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.

Administrators told Schiller that he was removed from his classroom for “supervising the building, research and development of imitation weapons,” according to teachers union representative Roger Scott.

“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

This may not have been zero tolerance gone wild, the Times suggests. As the union rep on campus, Schiller had been negotiating with administrators over updating the employment agreement. 

My first husband submitted a design for an atomic bomb for his fifth-grade science fair and nobody said boo.

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?

Defender of gay student won’t be expelled

life lesson: what's right and what's permitted doesn't always matchA Florida high school student was suspended, but not expelled, for defending a gay classmate who was being attacked in the cafeteria.

Mark Betterson’s 10-day suspension was reduced to two days after a disciplinary hearing. When James Griffin swung at the football player, he fought back, breaking “zero tolerance” rules. He says he’d do it again, if necessary.

Griffin was arrested for battery for punching Jonathan Colon in the face and head.

“I think it’s a good punishment as substitution for expulsion, but (Betterson) shouldn’t even have been considered for expulsion for what he did,” said sophomore Cody Lesie.

“I think it’s horrible because he got suspended for doing something right,” said sophomore Kyle Piogrim.

No kidding.

Zero tolerance for standing up to bully

When a bully attacked a gay student in the cafeteria, a football player stepped in to protect the victim. Rescuer Mark Betterson was suspended for 10 days for fighting, reports Gay Star News. James Griffin, 18, faces battery charges for the attack on Jonathan Colon, who’s openly gay.

East Lee County High School in Florida has a zero tolerance policy on fighting, reports Reason‘s Hit and Run blog. It doesn’t matter who started it.

Griffin reportedly threw milk in Colon’s face and shouted homophobic slurs before punching him twice in the head. “Jonathan was just going to stand there and get beat up … if I didn’t jump into it,” Betterson told WFTX-TV. “I was just trying to break up the whole thing because its not fair for somebody to get beat up for something that he is.”

Betterson said he had only gotten physical when Griffin had begun throwing punches at him too.

“He swung at me and was like ‘you can get it too’ so we got into a fight,” Betterson said.

” . . to be suspended for 10 days, I don’t understand. I’m not going to stand there and watch somebody get bullied.”

Colon didn’t know Betterson before the fight, he said. “I was protected by someone who had no reason to protect me, we have nothing in common – he’s on the football team and I’m the flamboyant gay boy.” 

Life imitates Glee.

Colon organized classmates to protest Betterson’s suspension, which will be reviewed on Monday.

Feds won’t tolerate ‘zero tolerance’

“Zero tolerance” policies — adopted to ensure uniform punishments — are too harsh, says the Obama administration, which issued an advisory on school discipline.

“Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out of school suspensions, expulsions and even referral to law enforcement and then you end up with kids that end up in police precincts instead of the principal’s office,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than non-disabled whites, according to federal civil rights data. That’s fueled the campaign for more flexible school discipline.

The recommendations encourage schools to train teachers and staff in classroom management and conflict resolution, offer counseling to students, teach social and emotional skills and avoid using security or police officers to handle routine discipline issues.

Training school administrators to make common-sense decisions about school safety. . . Can it be done?

Under “disparate impact doublespeak,” schools must make punishments fit the percentages, writes Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado political science professor, on Flypaper.

. . . schools still “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies” that were adopted with no intent to discriminate “but nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”  Ordinary English users can be forgiven if they find themselves scratching their heads asking, “How could evenhanded and neutral policies actually be discriminatory?  Doesn’t discrimination require someone, you know, actually discriminating?”

. . . If we accept the guideline’s assumption that disruptive behavior should be evenly distributed across racial groups, Asian students are woefully underpunished.

Students who want to learn will be the losers, he predicts. Federal bureaucrats will be “winners since these guidelines give them another pretext to meddle in local schools.”

If kids can tell fantasy from reality …

Preschoolers are good at distinguishing fantasy from reality, according to a new study, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Children understand the difference. They know that their beloved imaginary friend isn’t actually real and that the terrifying monster in their closet doesn’t actually exist (though that makes them no less beloved or scary). But children do spend more time than we do thinking about the world of imagination. They don’t actually confuse the fantasy world with the real one; they just prefer to hang out there.

If little kids can tell what’s real and what’s pretend, why can’t school administrators and teachers distinguish between fantasy and reality, asks Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, in a USA Today column.

At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., for example, 10-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended for using an imaginary bow and arrow. That’s right – - not a real bow and arrow, but an imaginary bow and arrow. A female classmate saw this infraction, tattled to a teacher, and the principal gave Jones a one-day suspension for making a “threat” in class.

A 7-year-old Maryland boy was suspended for gnawing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. An 8-year-old Arizona boy was threatened with expulsion for his drawings of ninjas and Star Wars characters and interest in zombies. A six-year-old boy was charged with “sexual harassment” for kissing a girl. “So much for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher,” writes Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor.

The “education industry” purports to teach “critical thinking” to children, writes Reynolds. But, apparently, not by example.

Insanity.

You know you’re insane when you hear imaginary voices in your head.

You know you’re REALLY insane if you hear imaginary voices in someone else’s head.

So who’s insane in this situation?

On Wednesday, the Rutherford Institute announced it has come to the defense of a 10-year-old boy who was suspended under a school zero tolerance policy for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination.

Additionally, Rutherford Institute says the student has been threatened with expulsion for his make-believe actions, which were a response to another student “shooting” an imaginary gun at him:

“Johnny Jones, a fifth grader at South Eastern Middle School, was suspended for a day and threatened with expulsion under the school’s weapons policy after playfully using his hands to draw the bowstrings on a pretend ‘bow’ and ‘shoot’ an arrow at a classmate who had held his folder like an imaginary gun and ‘shot’ at Johnny.

There might — in some attenuated sense — be some nearly legitimate reasons to suspend children for this sort of activity. Maybe it’s a school dedicated to pacifism or something. Maybe there are other circumstances that could bear on the situation.

But I can think of no circumstance where a zero tolerance weapons policy is applicable here — if that is indeed what motivated the suspension in the first place. (It seems likely, but it’s not entirely clear, at least from what I’ve read.)


Another article
on the incident, which took place some months ago, gives this little gem:

A girl in the class reported the exchange to the teacher, who pulled the boys out of the classroom to reprimand them for the disruption.

You have to wonder where this girl, if the report is true, learned that reporting other kids for playing make-believe soldier or make-believe Hunger Games or whatever was the thing to do.

Someone taught her that, either explicitly or by example.