‘Disturbing school’ law faces challenge

“Disturbing a school” or acting “in an obnoxious manner” is a crime in South Carolina, but the law is unconstitutionally vague, charges the ACLU. Thousands of students — disproportionately African-American — have faced charges, says the civil rights group.

Niya Kenny didn't return to high school after her arrest for "disturbing a school."

After her arrest for “disturbing a school,” Niya Kenny dropped out and earned her GED.

The ACLU is challenging the law on behalf of Niya Kenny, who was arrested last fall after a school police officer violently removed a classmate who’d refused the teacher’s order to put away her phone.

Kenny stood up and cursed the officer, but didn’t interfere with the arrest, she told the New York Times.

Kenny was calling attention to police abuse, according to the ACLU’s account:

Fields picked the girl up, flipped her in her desk, and then grabbed an arm and a leg to throw her across the room. Niya stood up and called out, she recalled later. “Isn’t anyone going to help her?” she asked. “Ya’ll cannot do this!”

Niya was arrested, handcuffed, charged as an adult, and taken to jail.

Afraid to return to school, Kenny dropped out, missing her senior year, and earned a GED. She’s set to appear in court on “disturbing” charges in September.

The ACLU is also challenging another law, which makes it a crime for students to conduct themselves in a “disorderly or boisterous” fashion.

Let’s concede that teachers need to enforce order in the classroom. Does it make sense to criminalize disruptive,  “obnoxious” and “boisterous” behavior? How many of us would have escaped a criminal record if we’d been held liable in court for being obnoxious?

Increasingly, school police officers are equipped with Tasers.

Instead of suspension, ‘positive redirection’

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Sci Academy charter, which has the highest test scores of any open-enrollment school in New Orleans, has cut suspensions.

Sci Academy, a New Orleans charter school in a poor, black neighborhood is known for high test scores and college-bound graduates, writes Beth Hawkins in U.S. News. Along with two other schools in the Collegiate Academies network, it used to be known for strict discipline and a high suspension rate. Now the school is transforming discipline — without sacrificing order.

Sci Academy teachers try to prevent confrontations before they happen, writes Hawkins. If that doesn’t work, a student who’s disrupting class or fighting with a classmate is sent to the Positive Redirection Center, which is staffed by two adults.

After students fill out a questionnaire with sections labeled, “Own it,” “Fix it” and “Learn from it,” they get help framing and rehearsing a conversation with the school community member they harmed.

When Sci Academy students stay in the center for more than a couple of hours, they continue their work on a bank of computers that classroom teachers keep current. Center staff can administer exams.

The referring teacher or staffer talks to the student within 24 hours, says  Cornelius Dukes, dean of positive redirection. The key question: “What help do you need from me to prevent this from happening again?”

The school uses data to identify “students who need behavioral or emotional support,” writes Hawkins. There are four mental health professionals on campus. Data-crunching also shows “patterns that suggest a teacher needs coaching or a part of the school day needs to be restructured.”

Atlanta merges best, worst high schools

Atlanta has merged its highest-performing high school with one of its lowest-performing schools, reports Molly Bloom for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches his world geometry class at Early College High School At Carver on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Atlanta school superintendent Meria Carstarphen has combined one of the worst high schools in the city with the very best one. If Carver School of Technology doesn’t improve this year, it could be eligible for state takeover under Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District plan, if voters authorize it in November. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches world geography at Early College High School. Photo: Hyosub Shin, AJC.com

In 2005, Carver High was split into an Early College school for motivated achievers and several open-enrollment schools, including Carver School of Technology, an F school at risk of takeover by the state.

“They’ve gotten rid of their top performing school by combining it with the lowest performing school,” says Sandra Bethea, who chose Early College High for her daughter two years ago. “They’ve set the school up for failure.”

There are more fights, she said. Her daughter’s teachers spend more time disciplining students and less time teaching. School staff have less time for extra help. And her daughter spent the first semester her English class reviewing last year’s material, so School of Technology students could catch up.

Suspension rates are down and attendance rates are up for School of Technology students this fall, writes Bloom. “Significantly fewer fights were reported.” But suspensions are up for Early College students and “three fights were reported, compared to none reported last fall.”

Early College students meet most high school requirements in their first two years, then take college classes at Georgia State University or Atlanta Metropolitan State College as juniors and seniors.

Losing ‘The Battle for Room 314’


After 20 years working for non-profits, including a foundation that puts smart, motivated, low-income students on the Ivy track, Ed Boland earned a graduate education degree and became a high school history teacher on New York City’s Lower East Side. He lasted for one year, then quit to write The Battle for Room 314.

The book is “tragedy and farce,” writes Maureen Callahan in the New York Post.

Boland starts with a scene from ninth-grade history class. It’s his first week. “Chantay” is sitting on her desk gossiping. He tells her to sit down and get to work.

A calculator goes flying across the room, smashing into the blackboard. Two boys begin physically fighting over a computer. Two girls share an iPod, singing along. Another girl is immersed in a book called “Thug Life 2.”

. . . “Chantay,” he says, louder, “sit down immediately, or there will be serious consequences.”

The classroom freezes. Then, as Boland writes, “she laughed and cocked her head up at the ceiling. Then she slid her hand down the outside of her jeans to her upper thigh, formed a long cylinder between her thumb and forefinger, and shook it .?.?. She looked me right in the eye and screamed, ‘SUCK MY F–KIN’ D–K, MISTER.’?”

The principal has announced he won’t expel any student for any reason. Kameron is suspended for throwing a heavy sharpener at a teacher and again for threatening to blow up the school. Then he’s caught with a hammer and switchblade. Finally, he’s expelled

“Oh, they getting real tough around here now,” a student says. “Three hundred strikes, you out.”

Boland admits he came to hate most of his students. Colleagues urged him to put their behavior in the context of their poverty, their dysfunctional families. He couldn’t.

The problem is the teacher, not the students, responds Thomas Martone, who teaches history at a Brooklyn school for students who’ve been kicked out of their previous high schools.

My classroom is filled with students who are parents, students without parents, students who receive free lunch, students who don’t speak English, students who are in gangs, students who are in legal trouble, students with mental disabilities, students with physical disabilities, students who are overaged, students who are under credited, students who are unable to identify the seven continents . . .

Martone hands out candy to “help explain the wide gap between the Estates during the French Revolution” and plays Tupac when teaching that Machiavelli’s The Prince is “about how to get power and keep power.”

One student did nothing but tear up paper. Martone “gave the student activities where he would rip out vocabulary, geographic features and social classes from one piece of paper and label them appropriately on the wall next to him.”

Will Martone’s students do any better in life than Chantay or Kameron?

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.

Louisville teachers quit, citing disruption

Disruptive students and unsupportive administrators are driving Louisville teachers to quit, reports Toni Konz of WDRB News.

It’s even a problem at elementary schools, according to a survey by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, 72 Jefferson County Public Schools teachers have quit.

Lucretia Gue, a first-grade teacher at Frayser Elementary, was in her fourth year as a full-time teacher. She’d worked as a substitute for 15 years before that. She resigned on Nov. 3.

“I have kids who are verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing other students, teachers and staff on a daily basis,” she said. “I am being prevented from doing my job as a teacher more often than not by students engaging in disruptive behavior, and I am not getting any support.”

Each school has a Student Response Team (SRT) that is supposed to help teachers deal with serious student misbehavior, reports Konz. Teachers are discouraged from removing disruptive students. “Instead they are to call the SRT, which is comprised of  administrators, a case manager, counselors, security, psychologist and others designated by the principal.”

On several occasions, said Gue, she’d called “six numbers to get the student response team and no one has answered.”

A teacher at Rutherford Elementary said no one came when she called for help to break up a fight. “That was the day I decided no more,” she told Konz. She resigned.

Several teachers told WDRB they were trained in discipline techniques that are ineffective.

“There are no consequences for some of these kids,” said a Byck Elementary School teacher, who did not want to be identified. “I have rewards set up for them, the ones who behave love it, and the ones who don’t behave don’t care. They are not afraid of anything. And they know that if they leave my room, they will come right back.”

“Planned ignoring” is one of the strategies, said Gue.

“I say a code word and my students, except for the disruptive student, all put their heads on their tables and we all ignore the student while they walk around room, rip papers off the bulletin boards, knock crayons on the floor and does whatever else they want,” she said. “One time, we sat for about 15 minutes. And that was after I called for help.”

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district has spent $243 million over the past three years to hire assistant principals at the elementary level, mental health counselors and goal clarity coaches at all schools.

Hargens said the district has reduced class sizes at Frayser and has added “a security guard, nurse, a readiness coach, a success coach, a goal clarity coach and provides additional time for its teachers to meet and collaborate.”

LA teachers: Suspension ban leads to chaos


Officer Henry Anderson patrols Robert E. Peary Middle School in Gardena. Credit: Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times

“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.

 “Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” asked Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, at a recent forum.

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.

Disorder hurts low-income strivers

Pushed by the U.S. Education Department, many cities have vowed to reduce school suspensions in the name of equity, writes Mike Petrilli on Bloomberg View.

But letting a few students disrupt class isn’t fair to the kids who want to learn, he writes. “Low-income strivers” deserve safe, orderly, academically challenging schools.

When district-run schools don’t prioritize the needs of strivers, urban parents can turn to charter schools, Petrilli writes. But high-performing charter schools in New York CityChicago and Washington, D.C. have come under attack for high suspension and expulsion rates. Disruptions aren’t tolerated.

The casual observer might wonder: What’s wrong with that approach? Why not ensure that schools are safe places to be? If the Success Academies and schools like it didn’t exist, many of those hard-working, high-achieving students would be in chaotic, low-performing public schools. Why don’t their needs count?

Specialized alternative schools may be the best way to help disruptive students, who often come from very troubled families, Petrilli writes. However, “poor children who are ready to learn, follow the rules, and work hard deserve resources and opportunities to flourish.”

Petrilli supports “universal screening” tests to identify gifted students in the early grades and middle-school tracking to put low-income strivers “on a trajectory for success in Advanced Placement classes in high school and at more selective colleges.”

Smart teacher vs. smart phones

This phone policy makes sense, says Ellen K at The Sum of All Things According 2 Me. “And if you don’t understand then you’ve never had to try to speak over the texting, movie watching and instagramming of today’s youths.”

Minneapolis will close ‘suspension gap’

Minneapolis public schools will try to eliminate the “suspension gap” by reviewing discipline of black, Latino and Native American students. The move is part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which has ben investigating high suspension rates for black students. 

“MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years,” the agreement states. “This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.”

This year, the district has cut suspensions by more than half by using alternatives for non-violent behavior, such as talking back to a teacher. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said teachers are being trained to handle student behavior in the classroom, reports Minnesota Public Radio.

But Johnson says a stubborn gap remains between the number of suspensions of white students and students of color. This fall, African-American students comprised 76 percent of students suspended while they make up just over a third of students enrolled in the district.

. . . “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students,” she said.

Principals will retain the authority to suspend white and Asian-American students without review.

Race-based discipline quotas are unconstitutional, responds attorney Hans Bader, who worked in the Office of Civil Rights. He writes more here on disparate impact and school discipline.

“Blatantly racist and likely unconstitutional,” writes Walter Hudson on PJ Media. Also “ridiculous policy.”

Why not seek alternatives to out-of-school suspension for all students?