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.”

From zero tolerance to zero control

To replace inflexible zero-tolerance policies, schools are adopting inflexible “no student removal” policies, writes Richard Ullman a high school teacher in Allegany County, New York, in an Education Week commentary.

Image result for violent students

Keeping “dangerous and defiant students” in the classroom makes it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn, he argues.

If Johnny can’t read very well, the teacher gets the blame, writes Ullman. “It have more to do with the pathologically disruptive classmate who, given infinite ‘second chances’ by detached policymakers and feckless administrators, never gets removed from Johnny’s classroom.”

“Restorative justice” programs, which stress counseling, try to keep students in school, he writes. “Higher suspension and expulsion figures for minority students” are blamed for what’s known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

However, while all educators must be mindful of biases and pushing out kids considered at risk, it bears emphasizing that the biggest victims of warehousing miscreants are the large numbers of nondisruptive, genuinely teachable students who tend to come from the same home environments as their poorly behaved classmates.

. . .  just how many times should the student who spews obscenities be sent back to class with no reprisals? Just how much instructional time has to be sacrificed to hold yet another assembly on why yet another schoolwide brawl occurred?

Administrators and “experts” are raising the academic bar while they’re lowering or eliminating discipline standards, writes Ullman. Teachers are left to do the heavy lifting.

‘No excuses’ charters soften discipline

A fourth-grade student does test-prep in his English class at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn.

Fourth-graders study at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Snyder

Some high-performing, “no excuses” charters in New York City are rethinking strict rules, reports Monica Disare for Chalkbeat.

A few years ago, if a student arrived at an Ascend elementary school wearing the wrong color socks, she was sent to the dean’s office to stay until a family member brought a new pair. Now, the school office is stocked with extra socks. Students without them can pick up a spare pair before heading to class.

. . . “We’ve moved sharply away from a zero tolerance discipline approach,” (Ascend CEO Steve) Wilson said. “We believe a warm and supportive environment produces the greatest long-term social effects.”

Suspension rates were nearly three times higher at city charter schools in 2011-12, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

Charter leaders say the rules create an orderly environment where students can learn.

Critics say high-needs students are pushed out.

Achievement First used to make students who’ve misbehaved wear a white shirt signaling they were in “re-orientation.” That policy has changed, said a spokeswoman.

KIPP no longer sends students to a padded “calm-down” room.

Recently, the New York Times published a video of a Success Academy teacher harshly criticizing a student who answered a math question incorrectly.

. . . Success Academy, for its part, has not changed its discipline philosophy and does not plan to, according to a spokesman.

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy said it should serve as a model. “The city could learn from Success’s code of conduct and provide the same safe, engaging learning environments that children need — and parents want,” she said.

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.

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.

Straight Outta Homeroom

In Straight Outta Homeroom on the Reason site, Remy makes fun of zero tolerance rules and safety scares.

Top 10 zero tolerance follies of 2014

Among Hit & Run’s 10 Outrageous ‘Zero Tolerance’ Follies of 2014:

A 13-year-old boy at Weaverville Elementary School in California shared his school lunch (a chicken burrito) with a hungry friend. For this, he got detention. Superintendent Tom Barnett explained, “Because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals.”

. . . A second grade teacher at Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School was suspended for four days without pay for bringing screwdrivers, wrenches and other shop tools to class, and demonstrating how to use them.

A 79-year-old substitute teacher in Claremont, New Hampshire gave up her job rather than “un-friend” about 250 current students on Facebook.

Chapstick is gateway to bee balm

A Virginia fifth grader is asking the school board to let her use Chapstick at recess to prevent chapped lips, reports the News Virginian. School policy has defined Chapstick as an over-the-counter medication which must be requested by a physician and administered by a school nurse.

Chapstick could be a gateway drug to Burt’s Bees lip balm, warns Reason‘s Hit & Run.  “Beezin'” — putting bee lip balm on eyelids for a menthol tingle — is alleged to be a new teen fad.

Katherine Mangu-Ward wonders if the trend is for real.

News accounts can’t decide whether the tingle of menthol on delicate tissues is a pleasant complement to being buzzed—”Some who do ‘beezin’ said it adds to the experience of being drunk or high”—or a standalone activity—”others said it helps to keep them alert.”

What are the risks?

“The peppermint oil in the lip balm is a very strong irritant and can cause inflammation in the eye redness of the eye swelling,” Dr. Brett Cauthen told . . . KOKH in Oklahoma City.

. . . Temporarily puffy eyes? Nooooooooo!

News outlets are linking to a beezin’ video “with sincere alarm,” reports Mangu-Ward. It’s not just an obvious parody. It says it’s a parody at the end.

Don’t Nerf me, bro!

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader's Nerf gun.

Scott and Ramsey McDonald with the fourth grader’s toy.

Fourth-grader Ramsey McDonald was told to bring a favorite toy to his Houston school to share with the class. He brought a blue, orange and green Nerf gun.

He received a three-day in-school suspension for bringing “something that looked like a weapon,” a school official told Ramsey’s father, Scott McDonald.

Houston School Supt. Mark Scott said school officials realized the Nerf gun wasn’t dangerous. “We never viewed that as a weapon.”

At least, they didn’t call the cops.

16-year-old arrested for ‘killing’ dinosaur

Assigned to write a Facebook-style “status” update about himself, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy wrote that he’d “killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur.” In a second “status,” Alex Stone used the word “gun” and the phrase “take care of the business.”

He was arrested for disorderly conduct and led away in handcuffs. Stone also was suspended from Summerville High School.

“Summerville police officials say Stone’s bookbag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found,” reports NBC.

But did they search for the dead dinosaur?