Has get-tough discipline gone too far? 

Schools are swinging from “zero tolerance” to softer let’s-try-to-reason-with-’em approaches,” reports the New York Times.

School safety did not improve” when zero tolerance led to more arrests, suspensions and expulsions, Steven C. Teske, a juvenile court judge in Georgia, told a Senate subcommittee in 2012. If anything, juvenile crime increased, the judge testified. “These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency — school connectedness.”

The “school to prison pipeline” is a problem, tweets Robert Pondiscio. “But who speaks for those who want safe & serious schools?”

It’s not clear how softer, talk-it-out discipline alternatives will affect “school safety and student outcomes,” write Matthew P. Steinberg and Johanna Lacoe. “A safe school climate is essential for student success.”

Recent evidence also shows that exposure to disruptive peers during elementary school worsens student achievement and later life outcomes, including high school performance, college enrollment, and earnings.

It’s important, they warn, to monitor “the effects of discipline reform on all students, not just those being punished.”

From zero tolerance to zero control

To replace inflexible zero-tolerance policies, schools are adopting inflexible “no student removal” policies, writes Richard Ullman a high school teacher in Allegany County, New York, in an Education Week commentary.

Image result for violent students

Keeping “dangerous and defiant students” in the classroom makes it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn, he argues.

If Johnny can’t read very well, the teacher gets the blame, writes Ullman. “It have more to do with the pathologically disruptive classmate who, given infinite ‘second chances’ by detached policymakers and feckless administrators, never gets removed from Johnny’s classroom.”

“Restorative justice” programs, which stress counseling, try to keep students in school, he writes. “Higher suspension and expulsion figures for minority students” are blamed for what’s known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

However, while all educators must be mindful of biases and pushing out kids considered at risk, it bears emphasizing that the biggest victims of warehousing miscreants are the large numbers of nondisruptive, genuinely teachable students who tend to come from the same home environments as their poorly behaved classmates.

. . .  just how many times should the student who spews obscenities be sent back to class with no reprisals? Just how much instructional time has to be sacrificed to hold yet another assembly on why yet another schoolwide brawl occurred?

Administrators and “experts” are raising the academic bar while they’re lowering or eliminating discipline standards, writes Ullman. Teachers are left to do the heavy lifting.

For the kid with a BB gun, expulsion or mercy?

When a student brought a BB gun to school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, his principal expelled him. A few years later, Nancy Hanks encountered him in an elevator, she recalled in a speech last month in Washington at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America.

She was afraid: Had she put him in the school-to-prison pipeline?

That meeting changed Hanks’ approach to discipline, reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.

Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks

Now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin, she’s “played a key role in revamping district-wide discipline policies, replacing the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior.”

“You and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of equity — we contribute to the pipeline,” Hanks said in her speech.

She didn’t expel the boy with the BB gun because she thought he’d use it, she said.

BB guns don't look like toys.

BB guns look like guns.

“I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school.”

As it turned out, her former student said he was earning good grades at Phoenix Military Academy, a public high school, and seeking help to prepare for the ACT.

“I was selfishly relieved that despite my lack of compassion and understanding, or patience or mercy, that he seemed to be thriving — and that, by the grace of God, he hadn’t wound up in the juvenile justice system,” Hanks said. “I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve.”

If you check out the comments, most people think being a steward and protector includes looking out for the kids who want to attend a safe, BB gun-free school.

‘No bullying’ programs don’t work

Anti-bullying programs aren’t protecting vulnerable students, charges Judith Yates in a guest column in The Edvocate.

At the start of the school year, a 14-year-old Tennessee girl killed herself with a kitchen knife in a public park, dying in front of classmates who’d called her a “ho.”

Sherokee Harriman

Sherokee Harriman

Now vandals have attacked the memorial placed where Sherokee Harriman died, writes Yates.

La Vergne, Tennessee schools have a “zero tolerance for bullying” policy. Sherokee’s mother helped Sherokee file “bully reports” in middle and high school. The last report “never went through the system” because Sherokee was dead.

“It’s not worth it” to report bullying, said one student. “They (the administration) don’t do anything” and “if you report, then you are (called) a snitch.”

Sherokee’s desperation may have other roots. A 20-year-old man has been charged with aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor based on information found on Sherokee’s cell phone after her death. Apparently, they had a “relationship” when she was 13.

Help an asthma sufferer, get suspended

Mandy Cortes complains that her son, Anthony Ruelas, was suspended for helping a classmate.

When a girl collapsed from an asthma attack at a Killeen, Texas alternative school, a classmate who carried her to the nurse’s office was suspended for leaving class. The teacher had told students to remain seated while she waited to hear back from the nurse.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth-grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes. According to the teacher’s referral, the girl fell out of her chair.  “Anthony proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying ‘f—k that we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.’ He walks out of class and carries the other student to the nurse.”

His mother, Mandy Cortes, is considering home-schooling him.

Also in Texas, an honor roll student was suspended — and may be sent to an alternative school for 30 days — for sharing her asthma inhaler with a classmate who suffered an attack during PE class. The other girl also was suspended and faces alternative school, the automatic penalty for sharing controlled substances.

How to create safe, welcoming schools

Creating safe, supportive schools is the theme of the new American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers’ magazine.

American Educator Winter 2015-2016

Russell J. Skiba and Daniel J. Losen write about the failure of zero-tolerance policies and “research-based alternatives focused on social-emotional learning.”

In New Haven, Conn., educators are being trained in restorative practices to improve school climates and avoid suspension.

Other stories offer advise on how educators can head off disruptive behavior and build relationships with difficult students.

Straight Outta Homeroom

In Straight Outta Homeroom on the Reason site, Remy makes fun of zero tolerance rules and safety scares.

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.

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.

5-year-old crayon pointer signs no-kill contract

A five-year-old kindergarten girl drew something that looked vaguely like a gun, then pointed a crayon at a classmate and said “pew, pew.” She wasn’t suspended! She was forced to sign a contract promising not to commit homicide or suicide, reports Reason’s Hit & Run blog.
Suicide contract

The girl was able to print her first name.

Her mother, who’d been called to the school, was not present, she told NBC News.

The little girl was given a psychological evaluation, says the mother. “My child interrupted us and said, ‘what is suicide? Mommy, daddy, what is suicide?'”

I’ve just been visiting the step-grandkids, who are five and three. They may know that a spider is an arachnid and therefore has eight legs (that was from the preschooler), but they are little kids.