Friday, December 01, 2006

Discipline Policy Too Strict? Seems Not

Last July, I wrote a column that hit a nerve with our illustrious school board and certain members of our community whose teenage boys vandalized the high school but then managed to dodge the punishment of expulsion. That punishment was in keeping with school district policy and was supported by the high school principal as well as the interim superintendent and others. In that column, I voiced my opinion of what went down in that situation: The parent of one of those boys is an influential and wealthy developer here in Windsor, and he used his clout and power to see to it that his son did not have to (fairly) pay for his crime. And of course, he generously used that same clout to give the other boys the same treatment because otherwise, what would that look like? It was ugly. It was unjust. It was corrupt. And I still maintain that this is what happened.

School board member Cathy Norris wrote a letter to the Windsor Beacon in response to my column (glad to know she's reading!), singing the praises of our present school board, upon which sits no member I can remember actually being elected. After my column was published, my editor called, telling me he was "really taking some heat" for my column, which he read and edited before publishing. He made it clear that he did not agree with my stance (big shocker), that I had to understand that the district discipline policies were written post-9/11, and so were considered too strict and reactionary by some. I heard this argument from one other person, someone near and dear to the situation. I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now. And a recent Beacon article seems to reinforce my doubts.

The 11/25 article, titled "Severity of Discipline Policy Questioned" and written by Megs Burd, indicated that a task force met with community members, educators, and parents, and "found many positive things in the district's policies as well as some that needed some strengthening." What "strengthening" means, I can't say. Burd didn't elaborate. Superintendent Karen Trusler was quoted as saying, "They do affirm our present policies. We have policies in place that are good for our kids."

Burd's article goes on to state that the task force felt "certain policies or disciplinary measures could be firmed up." Again, who knows what "firmed up" means. Members also support the superintendent's discretion in dealing with individual cases. Our interim superintendent did just that with the vandalism case, and she supported the original sentence of expulsion. Odd then, don't you think, that those boys are back in school? What's the point of case-by-case consideration if the superintendent doesn't have the final say?

What I noticed completely lacking in the article is any reference to our discipline policies being too strict or reactionary. Since the last board meeting, three expulsion cases have occurred. Did any of those kids' parents manage (or even try?) to get their students' punishment revoked? Or did they comprehend that when their kid breaks a rule for which there is a clear and formally stated consequence, said consequence is meted out, regardless of who they are? I like to think that in this age of permissiveness, lazy parenting, and privileged kids who have an overblown sense of entitlement that comes directly from their own folks, there are still adults in positions of authority who believe that rules are rules and should be followed. Period. No excuses, no exceptions.

Alas, I don't see any of those adults on this school board. Members are concerned, rather, about insuring those expelled students get some form of education. For crying out loud, where the hell does this end? Isn't there already a school in Greeley for expelled students to attend? Why is our district spending time and money on researching alternatives? This is like sending a child to her room but going to great pains to be sure that rooms has cable TV, a stocked fridge, and all the toys she could want. Perhaps knowledgeable professionals could be on hand to act as educational consultants, but give the responsibility of the legwork to the parents of these students who gave up their right to attend our schools when they made bad choices.

But since our district can't seem to manage enforcing the policies as they are clearly stated in the handbook, I guess it's too much to expect them to take a hardline approach to anything else. Discipline among students at the middle and high school levels is a serious problem in Windsor. But what do teachers and educators have to rely on when they can't even have the security of knowing their administration backs them up? How can they discipline rowdy, disrespectful, rule-breaking, foul-mouthed, apathetic, violent students when their superiors don't have their backs? That kind of support should be a given, yet such is not the case in Windsor RE-4. And until we get some people sitting on that board who aren't afraid to incur the wrath of certain parents or community members in the name of justice and fair play, it ain't ever gonna be how things work around here.

I don't think the problem lies in the severity of our discipline policies, and given that the task force affirms them, I'd say I'm not alone in my assessment. The problem lies in having a school board that refuses to consistently enforce those policies for everyone, but chooses instead to let someone outside the realm of school authority dictate what will happen. The problem lies in not realizing the limits of an entity's responsibility. Expel a kid and then give him his own special classroom? Come on.

This district needs some real leadership, the kind that lays down the law and then abides by it. What are policies for if not enforcement? The Beacon hails the school board for scrutinizing its discipline policies; I'd join in the accolades if I believed any real change would come of such an effort. But I think we're going to see more of the same. And down the road, lame excuses will be made, policies won't be followed, and we'll still hear unending (and justified) complaints of discipline issues from our teachers.

I called it right back in July.


Anonymous said...

Well said, once again, Rebecca. I don't have time at the moment to comment fully on what I would like to say, but did want to mention this. The discipline problem is of great concern to me. Cathy Norris, I feel should not have any say on this matter. Her son is the most disrespectful, foul mouthed, mis-behaved teen I have seen in a very long time. I know first hand. I was shocked that he had the nerve to tell me once to "F" off. Every other word out of his mouth was the "F" word. He couldn't even pretend to be polite and respect an elder. When I hear or see the school board discussing discipline, they need to take a long hard look at their own children and see that most of their decisions are made to protect their very own children and those in this community with money. Huge conflict of interest.

Doug said...

Public schools are the worst for following through with any type of punishment. My wife is a former elementary school teacher, and she always complained about the lack of any power to discipline the students.

All they can do anymore is send them to principles office. Of course, one of these times, the kid came back with a sweat-shirt. That's right, the kid was sent to the office to be punished and came back with a new shirt. The lack of administration support for the teachers decisions is really in a horrible state.

Of course, that's just my opinions out here in Georgia.

Anonymous said...

The school board isn't the only problem with discipline issues in the schools. There are some "professionals" in the district, I won't mention names, but I will use a title, Elementary Psychologist and at least one elementary principal, that also contribute to the overwhelming discipline problem. Yes, some kids come from awful homes, but it seems to be an excuse to continue to allow these poor, poor unfortunate kids to act badly. They disrupt the classroom, use disrespectful language and take precious time away from teachers who want to teach and kids who want to learn. Some of these kids are allowed to rule the schools with no real consequences. Just meeting after meeting for school staff to decide what is best for the unruly child, which usually takes a year or two to finally agree to disagree and the kid continues to manipulate the system and laugh at all the adults who console and pamper the trouble makers. The good kids suffer once again as the troubled kids get all of the attention and for some reason get let off the hook because the rules don't really apply to them. The kids that do follow the rules and try to do their best are then left asking why Little Tommy (fictional person) can have special privileges and be allowed to run in the halls or listen to his CD player or use his cell phone or talk back to school staff or be able to leave school with a staff member for a special lunch at McDonalds because he was able to make it a day or two without hurting someone. What about all the good kids that never hurt or disrespect anyone? Do they ever get to go out to lunch and have their own special recognition? I don't think so. This wishy-washy crap is getting old. Protect the kids and teachers who want to succeed and remove the ones who don't have any business continuing to disrupt our educational system, whether it be elementary school, middle school or high school.

Judith K. Witherow said...

In this day of shootings, at school, it more important then ever to enforce discipline.
If there are ones who don't want to learn they should not be allowed to disrupt those who do in
any way.
Race, class or culture should have no part in meteing out punishment or enforcing rules by suspension or expulsion.
If anyone is unhappy with the rules being enforced they can enroll their children in private school.
Tax payers shouldn't have to pay for those who think they already know it all. This is especially true for parents who uphold wrong doing by thier children

Anonymous said...

Amen, sistah!

Anonymous said...

I AGREE! I couldn't BELIEVE what I was reading - when a kid is expelled - THAT MEANS NO SCHOOL which is the punishment. To provide them with alternative education is bull. grrrrr Keep up the good work Rebecca - just wish this could be in the paper too!

Anonymous said...

You are so right about this issue. I teach at one of the schools in Windsor. I think the public would be shocked at the type of behavior that is going on in the school. We really have no form of behavioral standards anymore. The educational and safety needs of the students are not being met. Our school allows students to harrass, bully, and intimidate other students, and teachers. We tolorate behavior that causes disruptions in class and in the halls. The students know nothing will be done, some even brag about what they get away with. The teachers are trying, when we see behavior that is inappropriate, we do what we can, we write a referral to the office. But nothing gets done. The behavior continues, and many of us are saying "why bother". I dont know if this is just the philosophy of the administrative staff, or if there is pressure not to do anything because removing s disruptive student from the school will reflect negatively on our AYP reports. What I do know is that things are getting worse, and our children are paying the price.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point

Anonymous said...

What happens when I write this?

Rebecca Valentine said...

Not sure I understand the question above, but when you leave a comment, I have the option to publish or reject it.

Anonymous said...

I hope the educator above is careful about who she/he is. One thing this district is good at is getting rid of the people who openly question the administration. There have been many very good people in this district who have been Non-renewed because they have standards and have disagreed with administration. I can think of several who were let go at Mountain View, alone and others who have left there because there is no consistency from the building leader. Yet, some of the tenured people can do or say almost anything they want and get away with it. Don't get me wrong, Mountain View has some really wonderful teachers but when good people with years of experience are sent packing because they question discipline and policy, there is a problem. Wake up Windsor, it is no wonder we have an above average number of kids who do drugs in this district. It starts at a very young age these days. If we don't discipline and guide our elementary children to make good choices and hold them accountable then it is too late by the time they get to high school.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. The one point I do want to make, however, is that it is part of the expulsion laws in the state that the district which expels a student must provide an alternative educational option for that student. Windsor IS in dire need of some type of alternative education - the high school has only ONE viable option when a student is expelled, and it's poor at best. When the student who has been expelled completes the term of expulsion and returns to Windsor schools (or other districts, for that matter), there are soo many gaps in their education and they are severely behind. Yes...this is a natural consequence of making a poor decision in the first place. But it's the good kids and the good teachers who suffer most when these students return to the classroom. It is for this reason I believe Windsor does need an alternative education program.

Rebecca Valentine said...

Excellent point and well said.