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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

De Vos: Schools are less safe

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is under pressure to rescind — or to preserve — what’s known as the “Obama-era guidance” on school discipline, writes Erika Sanzi in Education Post. A response to high suspension rates for black, Latino and special-education students, the 2014  “Dear Colleague” letter warned districts that disparate discipline numbers could be investigated by the Office of Civil Rights.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

DeVos listened to educators on both sides of the debate last week. Many educators, parents and students say “schools are less safe” because the guidance has restricted “teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order,” she wrote in a blog post.

Some teachers discussed the down side of out-of-school suspensions, DeVos wrote. A district administrator described how social-emotional learning “helped students learn to settle their differences without violence, and helped foster a nurturing school environment.”

However, others complained that teachers lost the ability to control their classrooms, “making it impossible for students to learn,” and driving teachers out of the profession.

Another teacher from New York described how students would regularly threaten their peers and teachers, but school administrators would not allow students to be disciplined, citing the need to reduce the number of suspensions. A former administrator from California told us that after her district changed its discipline policies, schools would send kids home informally to avoid impacting the schools’ suspension rates.

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, DeVos has launched a Commission on School Safety.

Sanzi has more on the teachers who spoke with DeVos.

Olinka Crusoe, an elementary school teacher in New York City, said removing students should be a last resort. “I want my students in school. I want them to learn the skills they need to manage their emotions and behavior during challenging situations.”

Annette Albright, a former behavior modification technician at Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, does not support the Obama-era guidance. She was physically assaulted by three students and while the video of the violent attack is hard to watch, her school administration accused her of “provoking” the attack. And then they fired her. She and others believe that the students were not held to account because the district was already under investigation by the Office For Civil Rights and was at risk of losing federal dollars.

Tynisha Jointer, a behavioral health specialist for Chicago Public Schools, said the guidance is being blamed for school leadership problems.

Suspensions are back up, notes Arthur Goldstein on NYC Educator. He’s a tad sarcastic about restorative justice, which was just endorsed by his union.

Once, I was teaching a class, and a student I’d never seen walked in. I told him he’d have to leave. He was offended by that, and thus he announced to the class that he was going to blow my head off with a 45. Clearly it was my fault. I should’ve taken the time to ask him why he felt he needed to come into my classroom, as opposed to whatever one he belonged in.

Rather than apologizing for failing to understand the intruder’s needs, Goldstein identified him and reported him to the dean.

I asked what happened, and the dean told me they had called the kid’s parents. I asked why he wasn’t suspended. He had problems, they told me. Now here’s how callous I am–I said if he had problems that caused him to threaten people’s lives in public, he did not belong in the same building as my students. Can you imagine my level of insensitivity?

Students who are suspended graduate at lower rates than students who are not suspended, notes Goldstein. Is is the fault of the suspension? Or the behavior that led to the suspension?

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