Has get-tough discipline gone too far? 

Schools are swinging from “zero tolerance” to softer let’s-try-to-reason-with-’em approaches,” reports the New York Times.

School safety did not improve” when zero tolerance led to more arrests, suspensions and expulsions, Steven C. Teske, a juvenile court judge in Georgia, told a Senate subcommittee in 2012. If anything, juvenile crime increased, the judge testified. “These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency — school connectedness.”

The “school to prison pipeline” is a problem, tweets Robert Pondiscio. “But who speaks for those who want safe & serious schools?”

It’s not clear how softer, talk-it-out discipline alternatives will affect “school safety and student outcomes,” write Matthew P. Steinberg and Johanna Lacoe. “A safe school climate is essential for student success.”

Recent evidence also shows that exposure to disruptive peers during elementary school worsens student achievement and later life outcomes, including high school performance, college enrollment, and earnings.

It’s important, they warn, to monitor “the effects of discipline reform on all students, not just those being punished.”

Feds: Schools are safer

Schools are getting safer according to a new federal report. Violence, bullying and sexual harassment has declined, the survey found.

About 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were victims of crimes at school in 2014.schoolviolencephoto

“On college campuses, the number of sexual attacks more than doubled from 2001 to 2013,” reports CBS News. “There’s really no way to say whether those increases reflect an increase in actual forcible sex crimes or just that more people are coming forward and reporting them,” said Lauren Musu-Gillette, an author of the report.

I’d guess it’s an increase in reporting and a much broader definition of sexual assault.

Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services thinks the numbers are fuzzy. “Federal and state stats underestimate the extent of school crime, public perception tends to overstate it and reality is somewhere in between,” he said in a presentation to the Education Writers Association national conference in Boston.

Latino, black parents: Expect more of our kids

Latino and black parents think educators expect too little of their children, according to a survey, by The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Both groups — but especially black parents — set a very high value on school safety, with school resources and high-quality teachers coming next in priority.

Both said family support made the most difference in students’ success in school, following by individual effort.

Ninety percent of Latinos and black parents said schools should hold low-income students to the same or higher standard as other students, reports Natalie Gross on Latino Ed Beat. “Some teachers have low expectations for low-income students of color – and parents know it.”

As in many school surveys, most parents liked their children’s schools, reports Education Week. However, 53 percent of African-American participants said schools nationally were doing a poor job preparing African-American children for the future.  Only 28 percent of Latino respondents agreed.

Also, about one-third of African-American and one-quarter of Latino participants responded that schools “are not really trying” to educate African American and Latino students.

“Children of color” are the “new majority” in public schools, the Leadership Conference observes.

St. Paul seeks equity, finds chaos

Brawls broke out at two St. Paul high schools in October. Photo: KSTP News

Some St. Paul public schools are unsafe for students and teachers, writes Katherine Kersten, a senior policy fellow at the Center for the American Experiment, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A Central High teacher was “choked and body-slammed by a student and hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury,” while another teacher was knocked down and suffered a concussion while trying to stop a fight between fifth-grade girls. There have been six high school riots or brawls this school year.

Hoping to close the racial suspension gap, the district has spent millions of dollars on “white privilege” and “cultural competency” training for teachers and “positive behavior” training, an anti-suspension behavior modification program, writes Kersten.

Aaron Benner

Student behavior is getting worse, says teacher Aaron Benner.

When that didn’t work, “they lowered behavior standards and, in many cases, essentially abandoned meaningful penalties,” she writes. Students can’t be suspended for “continual willful disobedience” any more. Often, students “chat briefly with a ‘behavior specialist’ or are simply moved to another classroom or school where they are likely to misbehave again.”

Behavior has gotten worse, wrote Aaron Benner, a veteran elementary teacher, in the Pioneer Press. “On a daily basis, I saw students cussing at their teachers, running out of class, yelling and screaming in the halls, and fighting.”

Teachers say they’re afraid, writes Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. He quotes a letter from an anonymous teacher, who says teacher are told there are no alternative placements for violent or disruptive K-8 students.

(Teachers) have no way to discipline. If a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream. If a student throws a chair at the Smart Board we remove the other students and call for help. If a student shouts obscenities, we simply use kind words to remind them to use kind words themselves. I am not kidding.

. . . The only consequence at the elementary level is taking away recess or sending the offending student to a ‘buddy classroom’ for a few minutes.

At this teacher’s high-poverty, highly diverse school, “I have many students in my class who are very respectful, work hard and care about doing well in school,” the teacher writes. “The disruptive, violent children are ruining the education of these fantastic, deserving children.”

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

On March 9, a veteran high school teacher was suspended for social media posts complaining about the discipline policy, when Black Lives Matter activists charged him with racism.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher at Como Park High, wrote that teachers “now have no backup, no functional location to send kids who won’t quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains, or cyber bullying, we’re screwed, just designing our own classroom rules.”

He did not mention race.

Black Lives Matter had threatened a “shut-down action” at the school if Olson was not fired.

The same day Olson was put on leave, another Como Park teacher was attacked by two students, suffering a concussion. “The two entered the classroom to assault another student over a marijuana transaction gone bad,” an associate principal told the Star-Tribune.  Two 16-year-olds face felony assault charges.

For the kid with a BB gun, expulsion or mercy?

When a student brought a BB gun to school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, his principal expelled him. A few years later, Nancy Hanks encountered him in an elevator, she recalled in a speech last month in Washington at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America.

She was afraid: Had she put him in the school-to-prison pipeline?

That meeting changed Hanks’ approach to discipline, reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.

Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks

Now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin, she’s “played a key role in revamping district-wide discipline policies, replacing the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior.”

“You and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of equity — we contribute to the pipeline,” Hanks said in her speech.

She didn’t expel the boy with the BB gun because she thought he’d use it, she said.

BB guns don't look like toys.

BB guns look like guns.

“I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school.”

As it turned out, her former student said he was earning good grades at Phoenix Military Academy, a public high school, and seeking help to prepare for the ACT.

“I was selfishly relieved that despite my lack of compassion and understanding, or patience or mercy, that he seemed to be thriving — and that, by the grace of God, he hadn’t wound up in the juvenile justice system,” Hanks said. “I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve.”

If you check out the comments, most people think being a steward and protector includes looking out for the kids who want to attend a safe, BB gun-free school.

Terror threat closes all Los Angeles schools

Los Angeles Unified closed all its schools today after receiving a threat. The second largest school district in the United States has told 643,000 students to stay home to allow time for a full search of more than 1,200 schools.

I predict nothing will be found. And there will be more threats. What superintendent wants to gamble on students’ safety?

New York schools received a similar threat — apparently from overseas — and dismissed it as a hoax. Which it was. But the San Bernardino shootings have made people nervous in southern California.


Structured play makes recess ‘safe’

Children play at Concord Elementary in Edina, Minnesota.

A “recess consultant” will design “structured” play at two Edina, Minnesota elementary schools, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Playworks promises to teach children to replace “Hey, you’re out!” with “good job” or “nice try.”

The two schools have joined a growing number of districts that have hired consultants to remake the playground experience into more structured and inclusive play time. The games and activities, like four square and jumping rope, are overseen by adults and designed to reduce disciplinary problems while ensuring that no children are left out.

Parents and students have complained about the new, structured recess.

Caroline Correia’s fourth-grade son, Liam, doesn’t like the limited choice of games.  “He feels like that’s not playing anymore,” she said.

Roughhousing is “essential to childhood development,” writes Virginia Postrel in response to a ban on tag that was imposed — and then rescinded –– in Mercer Island, Washington.

Rowdy, physical play teaches kids to communicate verbally and nonverbally; to take turns; to negotiate rules; and to understand when they can use their full strength and when they need to hold back.

“Maybe we should think twice about making recess as joyless and authoritarian as the rest of the school day,” writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run.

Structured playtime may contribute to the campus safe-space movement, he suggests. “Is it any surprise that teens who have never enjoyed anything approaching actual freedom — who spent their purported free time being coached by paid consultants on the ‘right way’ to play with others — cringe in horror when they arrive at college and are finally on their own?”

Tag, you’re OK

Tag is back at school playgrounds on Mercer Island, near Seattle, reports the Seattle Times.

The district had banned tag — and any game involving touching — to protect students’ “physical and emotional safety.” In the past, tag has led to name-calling and minor injuries, district officials said.

Parent protests — and national mockery — forced the reversal.Tag-is-Back-on-Mercer-Island-School-Playgrounds-after-Attempted-Ban

Superintendent Gary Plano initially said schools would develop new “tag-like running games” with no contact. Now, children will be allowed to play tag at recess.

Some schools nationwide have banned contact games in the name of safety, said Jonathan Blasher, executive director of the nonprofit Playworks. Some don’t allow children to throw balls or use other playground equipment.

In 2006, some Spokane elementary schools prohibited tag because of safety concerns, he said.

“I think a game like tag is wonderful,” Blasher said. “You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are.”

Kelsey Joyce, a parent and tag defender, said her son and his friends play “four different types of tag,” reports the Seattle Times. That includes a version involving a “red-hot lava monster.”

Tag is unsafe, school tells kids

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Pieter Bruegel painted Children’s Games in 1560

Children have played tag for centuries, writes Lenore Skenazy on Reason‘s Hit & Run. It’s never been considered a dangerous game.

Tag — and other games in which children do not “keep their hands to themselves” —  have been banned by the Mercer Island School District near Seattle. The ban will protect the “physical and emotional safety” of students, wrote Mary Grady, the district’s communications director, in an email note to Q13Fox TV

I guess holding hands for Ring Around the Rosy also is verboten under the touching-is-dangerous rule.

Children have been playing tag since the time of Breugel — and possibly since the dawn of time — Skenazy writes. But today’s kids are too fragile?

Melissa Neher, the mother of two schoolchildren, started a Facebook campaign to alert parents to the ban.

“Kids should be free to have spontaneous play on the playground at recess,” she told Fox TV.  “I played tag” as a child. “I survived.”

Another mother brags she survived Red Rover. That was one of my favorites.

Bring a clock, go to jail

A high school freshman in Irving, Texas, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was eager to establish his reputation as an inventor. So he brought in a homemade digital clock to show his engineering teacher.  When his English teacher saw it, Ahmed was handcuffed and arrested on charges of bringing a “hoax bomb.”

“He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation,” said James McLellan, a police spokesman. “It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car.”

Which it wasn’t.

Ahmed was suspended for three days, but no charges will be filed.

He’ll miss more school next month to attend Astronomy Night, a celebration of science, at the White House on Oct. 19.

Ahmed's clock

Ahmed’s clock

Ahmed likes to tinker. “A box full of circuit boards sits at the foot of Ahmed’s small bed,” reports the Dallas Morning News. His room looks “like the back room at RadioShack.”

He built the clock — a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display inside a case — in 20 minutes, he says.

He was pulled out of class to be questioned by four police officers.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is an entrepreneur who’s twice run for president in his native Sudan.