Teachers: Suspensions are down, but so is safety

Denver schools have cut suspensions and expulsions dramatically, but some teachers say their schools aren’t safe, reports Jenny Brundin on Colorado Public Radio.

“Students have threatened to follow teachers home and jump them,” says Greg Ahrnsbrak, who teaches at Bruce Randolph, a 6th-12th grade school in north Denver.

 We’ve had students who have threatened to bring a gun and kill teachers. We’ve had students who’ve threatened to kill all of us with a bomb. Our administrators have tried to expel some of them and they’re told they can’t.

“Our schools are safe,” says Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson.

But, nearly all of the staff at Denver’s Morey Middle School, Bruce Randolph and Munroe Elementary schools signed a letter complaining there are no consequences for fighting or cursing at a teacher.

A local parent and youth activist group Padres y Jovenes Unidos, pushed for the new discipline policy. “We had thousands of students being referred to the police for minor discipline issues, like being disruptive in class,” says Lalo Montoya.

Now the discipline process is complex, writes Brundin. “In order to get a belligerent kid removed from school or even class, it takes multiple steps, and sometimes weeks of documentation that teachers say cuts into teaching time. Kids know that and push boundaries.”

A teacher, who didn’t want to use her name, says she used to be able to ask a disruptive student to leave the classroom, knowing the student would leave.

And now they won’t. They refuse. So you’ve got to call security. Actually,  just yesterday, I had a student who was using horrible language, just yelling these awful, awful things. I asked him to stop. He said he would and he didn’t. And then he started laying hands on some of the other students, kicking, hitting, pushing. Just very violent. So I called for security. Security comes out and says, “I will ask him to come with me, but I can tell you right now, he’s not going to come.”

Students can be sent to an in-school-suspension room, where they’re supposed to get counseling. But schools don’t have enough counselors.

Student: When kids get real angry, they just be cussin’ at the teachers, and the teachers really don’t even do nothin’. They just send us to the SI office. You just sit down, do your work and just wait until the next period and get your stuff and go!

Students can be suspended or expelled for bringing guns or knives to school, Wilson says. He concedes schools need more support to make the new discipline policy work. An extra $1.5 million is budgeted for mental health specialists next year, targeting mainly middle schools.

Via Education Week.

More cops in schools, more kids in court

When police patrol school campuses, misbehavior is criminalized,reports the New York Times. Students who might have been sent to the principal’s office for “scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers” end up in court.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

. . . “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

In Texas, school-based police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. Students face fines, community service and, in some cases, a criminal record. Her group and the NAACP have filed a federal civil rights complaint charging one Texas district issues four times more citations to blacks than whites.

In the wake of Newtown, many districts are hiring police officers to guard schools. But once they’re on campus, cops usually end up enforcing discipline.

We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.

Armed guard disarms school shooter

An Atlanta middle-school student shot a classmate yesterday in the school courtyard. An armed security guard — an off-duty police officer — took the gun away. The 14-year-old victim has been discharged from the hospital.

Ida Price MIddle School students must walk through a metal detector to enter the school. It’s not clear how the shooter got the gun into the school.

An armed police officer and an unarmed guard will be stationed at every elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, if the school board can persuade the local police to provide the manpower.

After the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some parents who attended the school board meeting asked for  two armed guards at each school. “The only thing that stopped that guy that day was when the two Newtown police burst in the building,” said parent Donna Lorenz.

These overreaction stories just never get old, do they?

I confess to being of two minds about this university student’s predicament:

The 19-year-old University of Central Florida theater student whose fake bomb led to the evacuation of the Hollywood 16 movie theater has been released from the Marion County Jail after posting a $5,000 bond, and a top prosecutor said he’s not sure what his office will do with the case.

Matthew F. Pye, 19, was arrested Saturday on a charge of manufacture, possession and display of a hoax weapon of mass destruction. The bogus bomb, which Pye created for a UCF theater class, consisted of five tightly wrapped sticks of “dynamite” attached with wires to a white timing device.

There are two main issues here that I see: the legal issue, and the common sense issue.

First the common sense issue.  Context is important.  If he was in the parking lot of a federal building, I could understand the reaction.  But he was at a movie theatre.  In all honesty, if I saw something that looked like a bomb in my local theater’s parking lot, I’d probably ignore it.  It’s just really, really long odds that it presents any danger.  It’s far more likely that it’s a fake (for any of a thousand reasons) or that it’s a legitimate possession of TNT.

But teenagers see the bomb.  Being teenagers, they freak out a little (they might even know it’s a fake and just be having fun), and someone calls their dad.  Their dad listens to his son or daughter describe a “bomb in a car” and instead of thinking what’s most likely (legitimate possession or a prop) goes for the worst case scenario and calls the police.  The police, instead of sending someone over to look at the situation before going nuclear, send everyone and a bag of chips in on the word of, at best, a 15-year old.

I’m willing to entertain the notion that maybe the university student was being careless in his judgment.  But I’m pretty certain that the father and the police are being a little careless.  Now I know that some people are going to say, “But you can’t be too careful…”  But that’s just false.  You can be too careful — there’s the old security-liberty trade off to think about — and you can also be careless in how you go about being careful.  That’s the common sense issue.

The legal issue is more interesting.  This purports to be the relevant Florida hoax weapon statute.

When I first read the story, I thought it odd that people were talking about weapons of “mass destruction.”  And indeed, the statute concerns only nuclear, radiological, biological, or chemical weapons and their knock-offs.

Second, the hoax clause requires a very specific intent:

Any person who, without lawful authority, manufactures, possesses, sells, delivers, displays, uses, threatens to use, attempts to use, or conspires to use, or who makes readily accessible to others, a hoax weapon of mass destruction with the intent to deceive or otherwise mislead another person into believing that the hoax weapon of mass destruction will cause terror, bodily harm, or property damage commits a felony of the second degree.

In other words, you have to intend to convince other people that it is real.  It’s not enough that people think it’s real.  This is why the local D.A. is “not sure” what they are going to do about this.  Even if the student did intend to scare people… he’s probably been arrested under the wrong statute, because dynamite-qua-weapon is neither nuclear, chemical, nor biological.

School surveillance doesn't deter crime

Surveillance cameras, security guards and zero tolerance policies don’t deter crime in schools, concludes Torin Monahan, a Vanderbilt professor. If anything, security measures “make students feel less safe, by sending them the message that adults distrust and fear them,” reports The Tennessean.

“Columbine had armed security guards. Columbine had video cameras,” said Monahan, referring to the notorious 1999 high school shootings in Colorado that took 15 lives and sparked a nationwide campaign for heightened school security.

“Generally speaking,” he said, “surveillance is not good for preventing crime. It’s more useful for catching people after the fact.”

In Schools Under Surveillance: Cultures of Control in Public Education, researchers looked at similar schools: Those with “cameras, armed guards, frequent pat-downs and weapons checks, even some with barbed-wire perimeters” had the same crime rates as schools without those measures.

The charter high school in my book, Our School, is a small school that doesn’t let students get away with anything. Teachers enforce the rules backed by the principal. No money is spent on security. It’s not necessary.