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.

Chapstick is gateway to bee balm

A Virginia fifth grader is asking the school board to let her use Chapstick at recess to prevent chapped lips, reports the News Virginian. School policy has defined Chapstick as an over-the-counter medication which must be requested by a physician and administered by a school nurse.

Chapstick could be a gateway drug to Burt’s Bees lip balm, warns Reason‘s Hit & Run.  “Beezin'” — putting bee lip balm on eyelids for a menthol tingle — is alleged to be a new teen fad.

Katherine Mangu-Ward wonders if the trend is for real.

News accounts can’t decide whether the tingle of menthol on delicate tissues is a pleasant complement to being buzzed—”Some who do ‘beezin’ said it adds to the experience of being drunk or high”—or a standalone activity—”others said it helps to keep them alert.”

What are the risks?

“The peppermint oil in the lip balm is a very strong irritant and can cause inflammation in the eye redness of the eye swelling,” Dr. Brett Cauthen told . . . KOKH in Oklahoma City.

. . . Temporarily puffy eyes? Nooooooooo!

News outlets are linking to a beezin’ video “with sincere alarm,” reports Mangu-Ward. It’s not just an obvious parody. It says it’s a parody at the end.

Don’t Nerf me, bro!

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader's Nerf gun.

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader’s toy.

Fourth-grader Ramsey McDonald was told to bring a favorite toy to his Houston school to share with the class. He brought a blue, orange and green Nerf gun.

He received a three-day in-school suspension for bringing “something that looked like a weapon,” a school official told Ramsey’s father, Scott McDonald.

Houston School Supt. Mark Scott said school officials realized the Nerf gun wasn’t dangerous. “We never viewed that as a weapon.”

At least, they didn’t call the cops.

Teacher/author suspended for fictional violence

A Maryland middle school teacher was placed on leave — and taken by police for an “emergency”  psychiatric evaluation — because he wrote two novels set 900 years in the future about school massacres.

A police search for guns and bombs found nothing. (Not even a slice of pizza chewed into the shape of a gun?!) But police will guard the middle school until the nonexistent danger is past.

Patrick McLaw self-published The Insurrectionist and its sequel, Lillith’s Heir, under a pen name.

The 23-year-old eighth-grade English teacher was nominated for teacher of the year honors after his first year at Mace’s Lane Middle School. He made national news for helping a 14-year-old student self-publish his own e-book.

Assuming McLaw wrote his own Amazon copy, his novels sound dreadful:

 “On 18 March 2902, a massacre transpired on the campus of Ocean Park High School, claiming the lives of nine hundred forty-seven individuals–the largest school massacre in the nation’s history. And the entire country now begins to ask two daunting questions: How? and Why? After the federal government becomes involved, and after examining the bouquet of black roses that lies in front of the school’s sign, it becomes evident that the hysteria is far from over.”

Neither is the hysteria transpiring in 2014.

16-year-old arrested for ‘killing’ dinosaur

Assigned to write a Facebook-style “status” update about himself, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy wrote that he’d “killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur.” In a second “status,” Alex Stone used the word “gun” and the phrase “take care of the business.”

He was arrested for disorderly conduct and led away in handcuffs. Stone also was suspended from Summerville High School.

“Summerville police officials say Stone’s bookbag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found,” reports NBC.

But did they search for the dead dinosaur?

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.
[Read more…]

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.”