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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Safety last?

When he brought a knife to San Diego’s Lincoln High School, the student’s special education team decided he wasn’t responsible because it was “a manifestation of the lack of impulse control caused by his disability,” writes Mario Koran for Voices of San Diego. Two weeks later, the student used a knife to slash another boy’s neck.

A student was arrested Jan. 23 at San Diego’s Lincoln High after he slashed a classmate’s neck.

Four years ago, San Diego Unified School District shifted from punitive discipline policies to a therapeutic model that tries “to address the underlying issues that lead to misbehavior, writes Koran. Yet the district “is only in its first year of training staff districtwide on how to effectively implement restorative practices.”

Lincoln High, reopened in 2007 after a $129 million rebuild, has struggled with staff turnover, poor academic performance and dwindling enrollment. Restructuring and rebranding attempts “have fallen short time and again,” writes Koran. “Now, educators, parents and students are coming forward to say they fear for students’ safety at Lincoln High.”

Nicole Stewart, who served as a vice principal at Lincoln from 2014 to 2016, said when the district softened its discipline policies, administrators started dealing with misbehavior by kicking kids out of school for the day. Instead of suspending kids who got into fights – which would show up in Lincoln’s suspension rates – they started sending kids home informally, a practice known as “blue-slipping.” Stewart believes the practice led to inconsistent consequences and made it harder for teachers to control student behavior. “The kids run that school from the opening bell to the closing bell,” Stewart said.

In her final year at Lincoln, Stewart hurt her back trying to break up a fight between students. She retired and now works as a consultant.

Consequences for assaulting staff vary greatly, writes Koran.

Lonnie Boswell, a substitute teacher, suffered neck and back injuries after he was charged by a student. “Boswell said the student wasn’t expelled, and weeks later came to school with a knife and tried to stab his classmate,” reports Koran.

In 2016, chaos erupted when a “play fight” between students at lunch turned serious. A school police officer followed a student into the parking garage and shot him with a Taser.  At some point during the struggle, a student struck the officer in the head, injuring him. Other officers who arrived used pepper spray to disperse the crowd of students who had gathered. Superintendent Cindy Marten used the incident to display the district’s newly softened approach to discipline, and no students were expelled for the incident. Over the objections of the school police officers union, who said the decision set a dangerous precedent, district officials allowed the student to return to Lincoln the following school year.

That same year, “a student with a long history of violent and sexual offenses was caught with a box-cutter at school – an expellable offense – and was later suspended for slapping a girl,” reports Koran. “Administrators did not attempt to expel him, and several months later, he admitted to sexually assaulting a special needs classmate in the boys’ bathroom.”

La’Tia Taylor’s Chicago school replaced suspensions with . . . There was no alternative policy or training in how to deal with second graders like “Tony,” who was diagnosed with “anger impulsive disorder.”

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