“In a South Los Angeles classroom, a boy hassles a girl,” write Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times. “The teacher moves him to the back of the room, where he scowls, makes a paper airplane and repeatedly throws it against the wall.
“Two other boys wander around the class and then nearly come to blows. ‘Don’t you talk about my sister,’ one says to the other. The teacher steps between them.
“When she tries to regain order, another boy tells her: ‘Screw you’.”
It’s another day of disruption in Los Angeles Unified, write Watanabe and Blume. The nation’s second-largest district was “hailed by the White House and others” when it banned suspensions for “defiance” and announced plans to use “restorative justice” strategies to resolve conflicts.
Suspensions are way down. But, say teachers, classroom discipline problems are way up.
Only a third of school staffs have been trained in restorative justice strategies, such as “talking circles.” Few counselors have been hired to deal with disruptive students.
Sylvester Wiley, an L.A. Unified police officer for 32 years, said schools are increasingly calling police to handle disruptive students. “Now that they can’t suspend, schools want to have officers handle things, but we constantly tell them we can’t do this,” he said. “Willful defiance is not a crime.”
At Los Angeles Academy Middle School in South L.A., teachers have asked for an after-school detention program, but one has not yet been established. They say they are overwhelmed by what they consider ineffective responses to students who push, threaten and curse them. The stress over discipline prompted two teachers to take leaves of absence in the last two months.
Ramon Cortines, the interim superintendent, said poor execution has undercut the new discipline policies, which were pushed through by the Board of Education and former Superintendent John Deasy.