Study: Chicago cuts suspensions, not safety

At the same time Chicago schools cut out-of-school suspension rates, students and teachers report feeling safer, according to a new study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

In the 2013-14 school year, 16 percent of CPS high school students received an out-of-school suspension (OSS), down from 23 percent in 2008-9. Still, 24 percent of high school students with an identified disability and 27 percent of high school students in the bottom quartile of achievement received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-14. Suspension rates for African American boys in high school remain particularly high, with one-third receiving at least one out-of-school suspension.

At the high school level, about 60 percent of out-of-school suspensions and almost all in-school suspensions result from defiance of school staff, disruptive behaviors, and school rule violations.

The in-school suspension rate has gone up sharply, the study found.

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.

Big Nanny bans sledding

Kids sledding

Cities are banning sledding for fear of lawsuits, reports Slate.  Dubuque, Iowa won’t allow sledding in 48 out of the city’s 50 parks, and sledding bans have passed in New Jersey, Nebraska, Indiana, and Illinois.

Sledding is too risky — for the taxpayers.

The city council in Boone, Iowa, had to shell out $12 million in 2011 to a sledder who collided with a concrete cube at the bottom of a hill. Omaha, Nebraska, had to pay a family $2.4 million.

“Open spaces such as parks are among the safest places for kids to sled,” notes Slate.

Sledding bans won Reason’s Nanny of the Month award for January. “Sure flattening monkey bars, shortening slides, and rubberizing pavement may not actually make kids safer (and it may leave them less prepared for the real, bubblewrap-free world), but the march to make kid’s lives duller continues.”

Texas boy suspended for magic ring

Bilbo Baggins finds the magic “ring of power” in the new Hobbit movie.

 After seeing the new Hobbit movie, a nine-year-old Texas boy told a friend he had the magic ring — “one ring to rule them all” — and could make him invisible. Aiden Steward, a fourth grader, was suspended for making a threat, reports the New York Daily News.

“I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” the boy’s father later wrote in an email. “If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.”

Bilbo Baggins, the hero of The Hobbit, uses the ring to become invisible in Tolkien’s book. It’s an asset.

Aiden already has been suspended three times this school year.

Two of the disciplinary actions this year were in-school suspensions for referring to a classmate as black and bringing his favorite book to school: The Big Book of Knowledge.

“He loves that book. They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed,” Steward said.

But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained.

So, Aiden is observant, curious and imaginative. No wonder he’s considered a dangerous character at Kermit Elementary School.

Walking alone leads to child neglect scrutiny

The day before I started kindergarten, my mother walked me and my six-year-old sister to school and back as a practice run. After that, I walked with my sister or with other baby boomer kids. Nobody was escorted to school by a parent.

After school, we might play at school or in the park or explore the ravines. We had to be home for dinner.

The Meitiv children walk in their suburban neighborhood.

The Meitiv children walk in their neighborhood.

Maryland parents are being investigated for neglect after letting their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter walk home from the park, reports the Washington Post. It’s about a mile to their home in a safe suburb, say Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

On Dec. 20, someone saw the children walking without an adult and called the police, who drove them home and demanded the father produce ID. Raised in the Soviet Union, he refused, but gave in when six patrol cars rolled up at their house. He agreed to go upstairs for his ID, Danielle told Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.

The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, “shots would be fired.” She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous the world is?” an officer told the father. “Don’t you watch TV?”

Montgomery County Child Protective Services threatened to take the children away if the Meitivs stick to their “free-range” parenting philosophy, writes Danielle.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

Child abductions are extremely rare, she points out. The children have been taught how to cross streets safely.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

CPS has demanded entry to the home without a warrant and interviewed the children at school while investigating the Meitivs for neglect. In November, CPS cited the parents for neglect for letting their kids play in the neighborhood park without supervision.

Both scientists, the Meitivs are educated, assertive, articulate and affluent. Call it Parenting While White. They’ve researched child neglect laws, which ban leaving young kids home alone but don’t say they can’t walk or play outside. They can afford a lawyer. And yet, they’re taking a risk by claiming their right to decide what’s best for their children.

How parents ruin Halloween

No trick-or-treating child ever has been “killed by a stranger’s poisoned candy,” says Lenore Skenazy in Three Ways Parents are Ruining Halloween.

Big Nanny explains how to roast marshmallows

How Does Your Marshmallow Roast? asks the U.S. Forest Service. The advisory tells parents to keep children 10 feet from the fire and “use a roasting stick of at least 30 inches in length.”

That would prevent the marshmallow from getting overcooked — or cooked at all.

Yet the illustrative photo shows two girls holding short sticks and standing very near the fire.

Madelyn Morrissey (left) and Katie Roth roast marshmallows near the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest. (Courtesy Adrian Roth)

Madelyn Morrissey (left) and Katie Roth roast marshmallows near the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest. (Courtesy Adrian Roth)

After providing the traditional recipe for s’mores,  the feds urge readers to “grill thin slices of pineapple and substitute chocolate for the sweet, warm fruit.” (Perhaps the writer means: Grill pineapple, throw it away and stick with the chocolate.)

Don’t use too much marshmallow, the advisory goes on, and try “slices of angel food cake instead of graham crackers” to cut more calories.

What’s the point of low-calorie s’mores?

Or the kiddies might enjoy not roasting marshmallows.

 Grab a small bag of chocolate or peanut butter chips – or a combination of the two. Take a banana and slice one side open, exposing the fruit but leaving the peel intact. Slice the banana, add a few chocolate chips then top with tiny marshmallows. Or substitute the chips for blueberries from the local farmer’s market. (Again: Throw away the blueberries and stick with chocolate chips.) Place the banana in aluminum foil and wrap tightly. Place the foil-wrapped fruit next to but not on the flames. Wait five to 10 minutes or enough time for the chips and marshmallows to melt. Open and enjoy with a spoon.

Another way to limit the amount of marshmallows used is to substitute them with marshmallow crème, a spreadable version of marshmallows that helps you more easily regulate portion. (“Substitute with”? No.) For healthier treats, use large strawberries, apple slices, banana chucks, pineapple or other fruit. Put a piece of fruit on a roasting stick, dip quickly in the crème and roast over indirect heat until a delicious golden brown. You’re still having campfire fun, but the focus is on a healthier evening snack.

The Blaze mocks the nearly 700-word article on how to do — or not do — something Americans have successfully done for close to 100 years.

A commenter nails it: “S’more-ons.”

Poll: No unsupervised play for pre-teens

Sixty-eight percent of Americans think it should be illegal to let kids 9 and under play unsupervised at a park, according to the new Reason/Rupe poll.

Recently, a South Carolina mother was thrown in jail for dropping off her 9-year-old at a popular playground.

Forty-three percent of those polled said 12-year-olds shouldn’t be outside without a caregiver, writes Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids on Reason. “They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).”

Sixty-two percent of Americans agreed that “kids today face more threats to their physical safety,” the poll reported.

In reality, the U.S. crime rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, Skenazy writes. Some neighborhoods may be unsafe, but most are just fine.

“I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, anytime, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today,” says Boston College psychology professor emeritus Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn.

9-year-old plays in park, Mom is arrested

A South Carolina mother faces neglect charges for letting her nine-year-old daughter play in a park while the mother worked at a nearby McDonald’s, reports Lenore Skenazy on Reason.

The daughter had sat in McDonald’s playing on a laptop while mother Debra Harrell worked. After the laptop was stolen in a home burglary, the girl asked to play at the playground.

(Harrell) gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade.

On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.

Fears of kidnapping are wildly overblown, writes Skenazy, who’s known for her advocacy of Free Range Kids.

But in this case, the child was taken by strangers: The mother was jailed and Social Services took custody of the child, reports WJBF in North Augusta.

Star File Photo: Aarden Harper goes for a splash at Summerfield Park.

Scott Ott was horribly neglected as a child With his brothers, he’d roam the woods and fields, walking, biking or riding horses.

In case of emergency — like when somebody shot my finger with the BB-gun, or when Troy and I caught a groundhog and the varmint latched onto my brother’s thumb and wouldn’t let go — anyway, in case of emergency our only car was with Pop at work an hour away. Nan never had a driver’s license anyway. Our only phone was screwed to the wall in the kitchen.

We’d swim in creek, pond or canal. We played tackle football without helmets or pads. We’d cross fields where menacing cattle grazed, and climb the highest trees we could. We built dams, panned for “gold,” caught salamanders, snakes, turtles, crayfish and eels. We cracked spherical rocks searching in vain for geodes.

Sometimes, in our early teens, we’d carry firearms, but way before that we always carried weapons — bows, spears, cudgels, rocks and slings that we fashioned from natural materials.  Often we reenacted Robin Hood’s cudgel fight with Little John on a log over a stream. For a few years, we tended a trap-line before school in the morning, toting a .22 caliber rifle in the dark and facing some very annoyed raccoons and possums.

We’d swing from vines, engage in brutal snowball fights, toboggan through a stand of trees and bail out just before the barbed-wire fence. A pack of us would skate the unreliable ice of a farmer’s pond — when the farmer wasn’t looking — slapping frozen hockey pucks at the unpadded goalie who trembled between the boots that formed the goal.

Children as young as six played without adult supervision.

Because it was a rural area, an abductor would stand little chance of being seen, Ott writes. “An urban playground, crawling with dozens of appropriately-supervised children and police foot patrols” is much safer.

“Only the statute of limitations prevents posthumous prosecution” of his parents.

I grew up in the suburbs. We walked to school and played in the park from the age of five without adult supervision. It was the baby boom era, so our mothers were busy with younger children but there were other kids around nearly always. I think we started exploring the ravines when we were seven or eight. We played in the street, made garden stakes into bows and arrows . . .

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.”