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.”

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.

Strict discipline lifts school — at a cost


Students aren’t allowed to talk in the halls at UP Academy Holland in Boston.

To turn around a chronically low-performing, disorderly school in Boston, the state education commissioner gave control to a nonprofit network, reports Peter Balonon-Rosen for WBUR. Now discipline is strict and scores are rising, but so are suspension rates. Is it worth it?

Each teacher clasps a stick striped in rainbow colors, with clothespins bearing the students’ names clipped on from top to bottom. If your clothespin is at the bottom, in the red zone, it means you’ve misbehaved. And everybody knows it.

It’s all part of the “broken windows” theory of discipline at UP Academy Holland, a Dorchester public school that was declared “failing” in 2013.

The school turnaround plan tells teachers to “sweat the small stuff,” writes Balonon-Rosen. There are “automatic consequence for rolling your eyes, or wiggling in your seat, or disputing an automatic, on up to fighting and other dangerous acts.”

While Holland’s test scores have gone up, the school suspended many more kindergarten and pre-k students than any school in Massachusetts in 2014-15. In response to a WBUR story, UP Education Network, which runs Holland and four other Massachusetts schools said it would stop suspending pre-K and kindergarten students.

Manifest injustice

Special-ed students can disrupt classrooms without consequences, if their behavior is a “manifestation” of their disability, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. A training session — lots of slides — left him “extremely frustrated when I’m told that essentially, special education students are the only students that matter, and screw everyone else.”

These days, parents “will fight any effort to require their angel to conform to even the most nominal standards of conduct,” he writes. Schools often give in to avoid an expensive fight.

It’s even harder to discipline special-ed students.

If a special education student has over 10 days of suspension in a school year (which should be an indicator of something right there), a meeting with a large number of people must be held for each additional suspension to determine if the misbehavior is a “manifestation” of the student’s disability.  If it’s a manifestation, they cannot be suspended.

He wonders: “What disability manifests itself via vandalism?” Is being an “a–hole” a disability?

Help an asthma sufferer, get suspended

Mandy Cortes complains that her son, Anthony Ruelas, was suspended for helping a classmate.

When a girl collapsed from an asthma attack at a Killeen, Texas alternative school, a classmate who carried her to the nurse’s office was suspended for leaving class. The teacher had told students to remain seated while she waited to hear back from the nurse.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth-grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes. According to the teacher’s referral, the girl fell out of her chair.  “Anthony proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying ‘f—k that we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.’ He walks out of class and carries the other student to the nurse.”

His mother, Mandy Cortes, is considering home-schooling him.

Also in Texas, an honor roll student was suspended — and may be sent to an alternative school for 30 days — for sharing her asthma inhaler with a classmate who suffered an attack during PE class. The other girl also was suspended and faces alternative school, the automatic penalty for sharing controlled substances.

Wisconsin athlete suspended for tweet

It’s bad sportsmanship for high school fans to chant “air ball,” “season’s over” (during a tournament) or other insults declared the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association in an email.

Mockery ensued. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas tweeted “WIAA acceptable” chants.

Instead of “airball,” he suggests: “We note your attempt did not reach the rim, but only to alert the clock operator that a reset is unnecessary.”

Also WIAA-acceptable: “We hope for a positive outcome while fully realizing that the result is not a negative reflection upon our guest.”

But the “s word” hit the fan, when a student athlete tweeted a vulgar response:


April Gehl, a three-sport star at Hilbert High, was suspended for five basketball games for her vulgar response. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gehl said. “I was like, ‘Really? For tweeting my opinion?’ I thought it was ridiculous.”

Does she have a free-speech right to use a vulgarity on social media? If not, isn’t a five-game suspension over the top?

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.

Schools won’t tell colleges about suspensions

Syracuse schools will not share student discipline records with colleges, under a new policy proposed by Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

Remember the threat? It will go on your permanent record.

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Seventy-three percent of colleges and universities ask if applicants have been suspended or expelled, according to the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse. Half of high school disclose the information. In the rest, it’s up to guidance counselors to decide what to reveal.

Syracuse schools are trying to reduce the high rate of suspensions of black students. Revealing discipline records could hurt students of color, Contreras said at a school board meeting. “You make a mistake when you’re a ninth grader and it hurts you when you are applying to college? That’s just not fair.”

Yik Yakkers kicked out of college

In response to a Yik Yak post that read “#blackwomenmatter,” a Colorado College student wrote, “They matter, they’re just not hot.” Thaddeus Pryor, a junior, was “suspended for two years” for “abusive behavior” and “disruption of college activities,” reports The Catalyst. 

His house mate, Lou Henriques was expelled for posting a screenshot from a South Park episode showing a character on Wheel of Fortune  incorrectly answering a “People Who Annoy You” question with the letters N_GGERS displayed. (The correct answer was NAGGERS.) Another Henriques’ post referred to a South Park character running down the hall yelling “RACE WAR.”

Yik Yak is anonymous, but someone tipped off the administration that Pryor and Henriques were responsible.  Within 24 hours, they were kicked out of school. Two deans made the decision.

Both students have appealed.

“I apologized” for the six-word comment, Pryor told the Colorado Gazette.  However, the deans accused him of writing earlier Yik Yak posts that he agreed were “racist and hateful.” Pryor said he didn’t write the earlier posts or know who did.

“There have been shorter suspensions and lesser punishments for things related to sexual assault and physical violence,” he said.

In a campuswide assembly to discuss the Yik Yak posts, some students said they were offended. OK, maybe they were.

If making a lame joke and quoting South Park are grounds for suspension and expulsion . . . How can any college educate children so frail?

FIRE reminds Colorado College about free speech in this letter.

Erika Christakis, who set off a flap over racism by suggesting that Yale students could pick their own Halloween costumes, will no longer teach child development at Yale.

“I have great respect and affection for my students, but I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems,” she said in an email to The Washington Post.

Charters close special-ed gap

Charters are closing the special-education gap with district schools and are more likely to mainstream special-ed students, according to an analysis by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

District schools classify 12.55 percent of students as needing special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. That gap is shrinking.

Charter students with disabilities are far more likely to spend their school day in maisntream classrooms.

Charters may not serve as many severely disabled students who require a separate class, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of NCSECS. Inclusion also is more practical for small schools.

“If you’re in a huge district, you might pool resources and put all the kids with disability A in this school, but if you’re a single charter school operating as its own district, you can’t do that,” said Morando Rhim. “So you’re going to figure out how to integrate them in their program versus creating a distinct program.”

Charter and district schools suspend and expel students with disabilities at about the same rate, according to the report. In both sectors, students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.

The report also identified 115 charters that focus on serving disabled students.