7-year-old suspended for pastry pistol

At a Maryland elementary school, a 7-year-old boy was suspended for two days for nibbling a pastry into the shape of a gun at snack time. Joshua claims he was trying to make a mountain. The teacher disagreed.

No one was threatened or harmed by the pastry, the boy’s father said. I guess that means he didn’t point his Pop-Tart and say “bang.”

A Google image search for “poptart gun” turned up this image, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. Apparently, Joshua isn’t the only boy with a taste for weaponry. Or mountains.

 

Safety first: Schools where kids can learn

Student learning requires a positive school climate and effective discipline policies, concludes Ed Week‘s Quality Counts 2013.

National initiatives to improve schools tend to focus heavily on curriculum, testing, and personnel. But a growing consensus also recognizes that the elements that make up school climate—including peer relationships, students’ sense of safety and security, and the disciplinary policies and practices they confront each day—play a crucial part in laying the groundwork for academic success.

I agree that a safe, orderly school environment is the first step to learning — though not the whole journey.

Ed Week looks at ”zero tolerance” discipline policies, now mercifully falling out of favor, and “promising alternative models that seek to reduce conflict and ensure schoolhouse safety without resorting to expulsion or out-of-school suspension.”

In the classroom arena, they document ways in which educators are working to bolster students’ ability to cope with academic and personal pressures that can interfere with learning and lead to peer conflict and bullying.

. . . Finally, this package examines factors often left out of the school climate discussion: the role of parents and community groups—and even of a school’s physical design and layout—in the learning environment.

In addition, there’s a survey of teachers’ and administrators’ views on school climate, safety and discipline. 

Student suspended for Sandy Hook poem

A San Francisco high school senior was suspended — and could be expelled — for writing a poem about the Sandy Hook massacre. “I know why he pulled the trigger,” wrote Courtni Webb, 17, in a notebook. She thinks gunman Adam Lanza felt isolated and unloved.

Webb goes to the Life Learning Academy, a small charter school for “troubled” students, including those with arrest records. It has a “zero tolerance” policy against violence, which school administrators say the poem violated. A letter to Courtni’s mother said the poem “contained deeply concerning, and threatening language.”

Here’s part of the poem:

They wanna hold me back
I run but still they still attack
My innocence, I won’t get back
I used to smile
They took my kindness for weakness
The silence the world will never get
I understand the killing in Conecticut
I know why he pulled the trigger
The government is a shame
Society never wants to take the blame
Society puts these thoughts in our head
Misery loves company
If I can’t be loved no one can

Writing about violence isn’t the same as wanting to commit violence, says Courtni.

The poem doesn’t read like a threat to me.

 

Federal discipline rules could hurt blacks

Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on the “school to prison pipeline” may lead to federal mandates to curtail the use of out-of-school suspensions,  make suspension policies uniform across schools, or both, writes Andrew Coulson of Cato @ Liberty, who testified against zero-tolerance policies at the hearing.

Black students are more likely to be suspended than whites. However, requiring lenient discipline policies would hurt black students the most, Coulson writes.

In Understanding the Black-White School Discipline Gap, Rochester University Professor Joshua Kinsler concludes that black and white students are suspended at the same rates for the same offenses at the same schools, Coulson writes.

However principals at predominantly black schools issue more and longer suspensions to all students — black and white — while discipline policies are more lenient for all students at predominantly white schools.

In a subsequent empirical study, Kinsler investigated what would happen if all schools were compelled to observe a more lenient suspension policy, to close the black/white discipline gap. He found that this would disproportionately hurt the achievement of African American students, widening the black/white achievement gap.  The reason for this, according to Kinsler’s findings, is that serious suspensions do in fact discourage misbehavior, and that removing disruptive students from the class does improve the achievement of the other students.

In his written testimony, Coulson proposed alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that motivate students to behave while protecting their classmates from disruption.

Without suspension, what’s the solution?

The Dignity in Schools Campaign is calling for Solutions Not Suspensions, a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions. The coalition charges black, Latino and disabled students are being pushed out of school and denied an education. Instead of suspension and expulsion, the coalition proposes a Model Code on Education and Dignity which calls for “positive discipline,” “restorative justice” and lots of counseling and support services.

Our punitive mindset blinds us to effective discipline, argues Julia Steiny.

“Children cannot learn if they are not in the classroom,” said  AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement supporting the need for discussion. She added, “Nor can they or their peers learn, or teachers teach, in a school environment that is not safe, stable and engaging.”

The facts are disturbing. According to a Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles report, 17 percent of African-American students and 13 percent of students with disabilities have been suspended. And school districts continue to eliminate school counselors, mentors and other services that are crucial to helping students succeed inside and outside the classroom.

The AFT wants “viable alternatives” before supporting a ban on suspensions, Weingarten writes.

In New York City public schools, students will not be suspended for talking back to teachers, cursing or other “low-level”  misbehavior. unless they’re habitual offenders, reports the New York Times. K-3 students can be suspended for five days, but not 10, for offenses such as shoving or tagging school property. The revised discipline code tells teachers to “intervene quickly with misbehaving students and to try counseling before moving to punishment.”

Misbehaving students can be sent to the principal’s office or denied  extracurricular activities. Severely disruptive students may be moved to a school that specializes in students with disciplinary problems. Expulsion is almost never used.

Teachers, is out-of-school suspension a necessary tool to deal with disruptive but non-violent students? What are the alternatives?

School OKs deaf child’s name sign

After banning a preschooler from signing his name – they think it looks like a gun – Grand Island, Nebraska school officials have relented. Three-year-old Hunter Spanjer wil be allowed to use his name sign. (There’s a video at the link of the boy making the sign. It doesn’t look like anything in particular to me.)

The boy’s family registered his sign with S.E.E. which stands for Signing Exact English. He uses crossed-fingers to show it is uniquely his own. When Hunter’s parents were told the sign violates the district’s weapons policy, they threatened to bring in lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf.

I wonder if Grand Island objects to Hunter’s name in spoken English. After all, what do hunters use?

Vee must haff your peppers

Via Instapundit, we have a chronicle of the absurd: a student is denied access to a prescription inhaler during an asthma attack because his parents didn’t sign a form.

School leaders called Sue Rudi when her son started having trouble breathing. She rushed to the office and was taken back to the nurse’s office by school administrators and they discovered the teen on the floor.

“As soon as we opened up the door, we saw my son collapsing against the wall on the floor of the nurse’s office while she was standing in the window of the locked door looking down at my son, who was in full-blown asthma attack,” Rudi said.

Michael Rudi said when he started to pass out from his attack, the nurse locked the door.

The Blogfather quips, “I’m beginning to think that sending your kids to public schools is starting to look like parental malpractice.”

Apparently no one even bothered to call 911.

Schools vs. free (rude) speech

What Right Do Schools Have to Discipline Students for What They Say Off Campus? No right at all, argues civil libertarian Wendy Kaminer  in The Atlantic.

Griffith Middle School in Indiana aims to transform “learners today” into “leaders tomorrow.” Leaders of which country, I wonder, after reading the Griffith Middle School Handbook. North Korea? The U.S. Constitution appears to have no standing in Griffith.

Students can be suspended or expelled for “innuendos.”  The ban on profanity, pornography or obscenity includes  ”other inappropriate materials” and “using or writing derogatory written materials.”  This is “breathtakingly vague,” Kaminer writes. Griffith students may be expelled for “disrespect” toward staff or other students or for “disruptive behavior,” including “arguing.”

Idiotic rules like this are bound to be enforced idiotically, but the consequences for students are not amusing. Griffith Middle School is now being sued in federal court for expelling three 8th grade girls for engaging in a girlish exchange on Facebook that included jokes about classmates they’d like to kill. Their conversation, which lasted less than two hours, was conducted after school, on their own time and on their own computers.

The girls used “LOL” (laugh out loud), smiley faces and all caps to indicate sarcasm, writes Kaminer. They were joking. One of the allegedly threatened students said he didn’t feel threatened and knew the girls were joking. But someone’s mother complained. The girls were expelled for the rest of the school year for bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The students have a very strong First Amendment case — if the First Amendment retains any relevance in public schools. There’s no question that those of us not in actual or virtual custody of school authorities have the right to make jokes about killing each other. Student rights, however, are increasingly limited; anxiety about social media and hysteria about bullying or drug use have only been exacerbated by the post 9/11 authoritarianism that permeates our culture and our courts.

Has the campaign to end bullying — and the fear of school violence — gone too far?

A six-year-old boy in Colorado was suspended for sexual harassment for saying, “I’m sexy and I know it” to a girl standing next to him in the lunch line. The song is featured in a commercial for M&Ms.

California rethinks ‘zero tolerance’

California lawmakers are rethinking “zero-tolerance” discipline laws that require schools to suspend or expel students caught selling drugs, brandishing a knife, possessing a firearm or explosive or sexually assaulting someone, reports the Oakland Tribune.

In the 2009-10 school year, 7 percent of K-12 students, 13 percent of those with disabilities and 18 percent of black students were suspended for at least one day in California schools, according to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, has introduced a bill to end automatic suspension, except for firearm and explosives possession. In addition, principals would not be required to report illegal activities to law enforcement authorities.

. . .  it would require a governing board’s decision to expel a student to be based not only on the act itself, but on the grounds that “other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.”

Another bill would remove “defiance” as grounds for out-of-school suspension, but would let schools impose in-school suspension. “Willful defiance” leads to 40 percent of school suspensions, reports AP.

School suspensions were once reserved for serious offenses including fighting and bringing weapons or drugs on campus. But these days they’re just as likely for talking back to a teacher, cursing, walking into class late or even student eye rolling.

More than 40 percent of suspensions in California are for “willful defiance,” or any behavior that disrupts class, and critics say it’s a catchall that needs to be eliminated because it’s overused for trivial offenses, disproportionately used against black and Latino boys and alienates the students who need most to stay in school.

“It’s so broad it’s not useful,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive of the nonprofit South Los Angeles Community Coalition. “You can’t quite define what it means, what it doesn’t mean.”

 I’ve never been a fan of zero tolerance and in-school suspension seems like a smart idea, but doesn’t this seem like a rather wide pendulum swing? It’s going to be difficult for a school board to expel a student for sexual assault or brandishing a knife.

Library sends cop to get overdue books from 5-year-old

The public library in Charlton, Massachusetts doesn’t fool around. When a five-year-old girl and her mother forgot to return two books, the library called the police.

Shannon Benoit reads a book to daughter Hailey.

Shannon Benoit reads a book to daughter Hailey.

Police Sgt. Dan Dowd stopped by the home of Shannon Benoit to tell her she had two books several months overdue. Hailey burst into tears, afraid she’d be arrested.

The books were found and returned. The mom says she never received an overdue notice.

Though failure to return library books is a misdemeanor in Massachusetts, Charlton police didn’t want to get involved, said Dowd.  “But the library contacted us, and the chief delegated, and apparently I was one of the low men on the totem pole.”

It’s nice to know there’s so little crime in Charlton.

That should scare Haley away from the library, writes Betsy.