ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

Pushed out

Let’s return to common-sense discipline and stop suspending, expelling and arresting students for minor offenses, argues Advancement Project. Overusing suspensions and replacing counselors with metal detectors and police creates a school-to-prison pipeline, the civil rights group believes.

Special-needs boy suspended for bomb cartoon

special-needs student was suspended from middle school for drawing a cartoon bomb, reports WTOC-TV.

A photo of the bomb Parham's son drew. (Oct. 14, 2013/FOX Carolina & Amy Parham)A photo of the bomb Parham’s son drew. (Oct. 14, 2013/FOX Carolina & Amy Parham)

Amy Parham said her son, Rhett,  is a fan of the video game Bomber Man. He drew the bomb at home, but took it to school.

“They actually reiterated to me they knew he was non-violent,” said Parham. “They knew he was not actually having a bomb, creating or making a bomb. School officials told her it was a question of  “perception.”

Rhett will get a hearing to see if his perceived offense is related to his disability. (I think he’s on the autism spectrum, which would mean he’s not good at reading social cues.)

Boys like things that explode, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

When he was young, a local TV show called Miss Pat’s Playroom showed kids’ drawings. He sent one in. Miss Pat said: “And little Darren Miller sent in this picture of an airplane bombing a house.”

No one panicked. No one called for Miss Pat to be thrown off the air. No one called for me to be psychoanalyzed. Back then people were smart enough to realize that boys draw such pictures and it’s perfectly normal, just like playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.

“Now we’ve taken what is perfectly normal and criminalized it, stigmatized it, and freaked out over it,” he writes. Which is stupid.

If not suspension, then what?

California schools are reducing suspension rates, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News.

Pressed by law enforcement, civil-rights advocates and the realization that the way they disciplined students was failing, schools are keeping on campus more kids who talk back, throw tantrums or even threaten teachers.

Some educators say they’ve found better alternatives. Five years ago, Yerba Buena High in East San Jose lost 1,062 days to suspension. Last school year, that was down to 23 days. “Suspending students is not effective,” said Yerba Buena Principal Tom Huynh.

Instead of sending students home on a mini-vacation, YB requires detention. At a recent session, a counselor talked about her own rebellious childhood.

Oak Grove High, which serves high-poverty San Jose neighborhoods, uses detention, Saturday school or litter patrol, as well as referrals to a counselor, anger-management help or a substance abuse support group.

But some teachers say “taking away the option to suspend creates a disciplinary void and sticks them with rowdy or even dangerous kids in class,” writes Noguchi.

 “For an experienced teacher who knows how to deal with intense behavioral management — we get that,” said one Oakland Unified teacher who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisal. “But for a new teacher, it’s a disaster.”

Even worse, Oakland teachers allege, the pressure not to suspend has led schools to fudge their numbers by not documenting fights or even weapons violations, or the ensuing punishments.

Oakland Unified was forced to reduce suspensions as part of a settlement with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Instead, the district promotes “restorative justice,” which “tries to get scofflaws to make amends, combatants to reconcile and students to come to terms with any harm they’ve done.” The district stresses conflict resolution and support for African-American boys.

“All of this is done to try to put a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. It leaves a lot of kids feeling unsafe,” one teacher said.

You can look at school suspension rates by district, courtesy of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, which is leading the anti-suspension crusade.

Did school crime cover-up lead to Trayvon’s death?

By covering up students’ crimes, Miami-Dade schools contributed to Trayvon Martin’s death, argues Robert Stacy McCain on the American Spectator‘s blog. District policy was to treat crimes as disciplinary infractions, shielding students from serious consequences.

. . . Chief Charles Hurley of the Miami-Dade School Police Department (MDSPD) in 2010 had implemented a policy that reduced the number of criminal reports, manipulating statistics to create the appearance of a reduction in crime within the school system. Less than two weeks before Martin’s death, the school system commended Chief Hurley for “decreasing school-related juvenile delinquency by an impressive 60 percent for the last six months of 2011.”

Four months before his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman, Martin was caught at school with women’s jewelry that matched items stolen from a home near the high school; he also had a screwdriver that the school resource officer called a “burglary tool.” Martin said a friend had given him the items. Instead of telling the police, the school suspended Martin for graffiti and stored the jewelry as “found property.”

Days before his death, Martin was caught with a small amount of marijuana. Suspended again, he was sent to his father’s girlfriend’s house in Sanford.

When the Miami Herald reported on Martin’s disciplinary record at Krop High School. Chief Hurley launched an internal investigation to determine who’d leaked the information, inadvertently revealing the report-no-evil policy.

If Trayvon Martin had been a little older and wiser, he’d have walked straight back to the house instead of doubling back to confront and punch Zimmerman, giving him a viable self-defense case. (The evidence and witnesses — both prosecution and defense — support this scenario.) Sadly, Martin never got the chance to grow up.  If he’d been arrested for burglary . . . ? Arresting teenagers usually doesn’t turn them into model citizens. Unfortunately, neither does not arresting them.

School discipline 101

Suspension helps create safe, orderly, schools — and tells parents they share responsibility for their child’s behavior, writes Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academies in the New York Post.

Success Academy Harlem 5 suspends 14 percent of students at least once during the year, compared to 9 percent for  PS 123, a district school in the same building. The charter had one violent or disruptive incident (a theft) in 2010-11, the most recent year for which data is available, compared to 92 incidents at the district school.

Most “parents like high standards for student conduct,” Moskowitz writes. It’s one reason they choose a Success charter.

It’s not just about safety. Order and civility are critical ingredients in a positive learning environment. Even something like making fun of another student’s answer in class — a comparatively mild misbehavior — can shut a student down intellectually and emotionally, particularly one with a learning disability.

To be sure, discipline isn’t the whole answer. Educators must also build positive relationships with students, create a warm and nurturing school environment, set clear expectations and work closely with parents to develop individualized behavior plans for children who struggle.

But suspensions also have a place. They’re a school’s version of giving a child a “time out.” By keeping a student out of school for a day or two, they convey to the child, in the simplest and most concrete way possible, that there are minimum standards of conduct for being part of the school community.

Sending a child home for a day or two puts the burden of children’s misbehavior on the parents, Moskowitz writes. “Many politicians give lip service to supporting teachers — yet would undermine them by depriving them of the tools they need to create a safe learning environment.”

Dropout Nation disagrees: “Suspensions rarely help kids understand how their behaviors affect their schoolmates and the cultures of the schools they attend.”

New threat: Talking about Nerf guns

It’s bad enough when little kids are kicked out of school for bubble shooters, cap guns, gun-shaped pastry and Lego guns, etc. In Washington state, a 6-year-old was suspended for talking about the Nerf guns his family had bought on a recent trip. A classmate told the teacher that Noah had a gun with him. Even when it was clear he did not, he was suspended for a “threat.”

(Mike) Aguirre said he and his wife were told their son was suspended for talking about guns at school, and because the girl who reported him felt her “health and safety were threatened” when they were called to the school last week. Officials said the issue is addressed in the district’s discipline handbook in the section on student rights and responsibilities.

But Aguirre said there’s no provision that students are prohibited from talking about guns at school, nor did the district provide evidence that the boy threatened to harm a student.

After meeting with the parents, district officials downgraded Noah’s suspension to a “disruption.”

Via Legal Insurrection, which also links to the many recent cases of zero tolerance for common sense.

Persecuting boys for being boys is “a kind of quasi-religious fanaticism,” writes Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today. “I think it’s about the administrative class — which runs the schools with as little input from parents as possible — doing its best to exterminate the very idea of guns. It’s some sort of wacky moral-purity crusade.”

Student suspended for Twitter budget ‘riot’

After the Cicero-North Syracuse school district budget was rejected by voters, students debated possible budget cuts on Twitter at #shitCNSshouldcut. The hashtag’s creator, high school senior Patrick Brown, was suspended for three days, reports the Syracuse Post-Standard. He’d called for cutting the executive principal’s job.

“I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, which no harassment was ever committed,” Brown said. “I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cellphone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

Brown admits using his cellphone in class. But he doesn’t think that’s why he was suspended. “It’s wrong that I can’t express my opinion on Twitter without being punished,” Brown said. “They didn’t like our opinions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express them.”

A lacrosse player, Brown said he’s never received a detention or any other disciplinary action at school.

When word of the suspension spread, someone created #FreePatBrown to discuss freedom of speech. Let’s hope that doesn’t start another social media riot. We wouldn’t want high school students discussing school policy and budget priorities.

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.

YOLO tweet draws 4-day suspension

Kyron Birdine, a high school junior in Texas, photographed and tweeted his protest at being forced to take the state’s new STAAR exam, even though his graduation is linked to TAKS standards.

Using an iPad, he tweeted a photo of the word YOLO (“you only live once”) and a smiley face scribbled on the essay portion of the exam, along with this declaration: “I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness.”

He sent it to Arlington ISD and the Texas Education Agency.

“It wasn’t for a grade,” Kyron said. “Colleges don’t see it. It didn’t benefit my personal life at all.”

He received a four-day in-school suspension for violating test security.

The student was right about the test and stupid to tweet his non-answer, writes Coach Brown, who wonders how the kid was able to “click off a picture on his iPad” in the middle of an exam. If Coach Brown saw an iPad come out during the state exam, ”

a pack of Velociraptors would drop from the ceiling and eat the iPad while the Grim Reaper came through the door and threaten the very existence of the student.”