We need to stop “grappling” with discipline inequities and start solving them
Are we literally saying that we can’t handle our children? Are we creating our own utopian society schools? It seems as though we are assuming the role of an effective weed and feed. Weeding out the unwanted and undesirable class of students that we don’t want to deal with and teaching them is out of the question.
There is a fierce national debate around suspensions and expulsions. This generally includes three options—an in-school suspension that confines the student to a quiet room all day to study and complete homework with a supervising adult; an out-of-school suspension, or sending them home for a few days (maybe back to the environment that caused the suspension in the first place); or expulsion, just totally displacing a child from the school altogether.
The story around autonomous schools and discipline is a hotbed subject. In New Orleans suspensions and expulsions were getting out of hand and used at such an alarming rate during the early post-Katrina years that the Recovery School District was forced to create a central expulsion program because rules differed for suspensions and expulsions from each set of autonomous schools. CRPE just released a report that explores this process, Grappling with Discipline in Autonomous Schools: New Approaches from D.C. and New Orleans.
The report was both eye-opening and alarming to me. I do agree that the rules surrounding discipline should be the same across the board and the centralized expulsions system that the RSD has implemented is a start, but it falls short with the rules about suspensions, which are still different for each charter organization. The report stated:
While the RSD made clear to charter schools that the state-run district had the power to strong- arm them into participating in the centralized expulsion program, the RSD conceded that schools would retain full autonomy on suspension decisions. This angered some parents and civil rights groups, who saw harsh and frequent suspensions as far more troubling than the comparatively small numbers of expulsions, but autonomy over suspensions was a nonnegotiable for many charter school leaders.
Although the report does not mention this, the rules regarding special education are still very loose and not easily understood, which would cause a problem for parents and families attempting to navigate the expulsion system. Another one of the alarming practices was the fact that most students went before the Student Hearing Office with only a parent and no one advocating for them. In these instances there is little chance of students successfully defending themselves or having the opportunity to discuss the appropriate discipline (presuming the student did commit the offense). Basically, students are defending themselves against the establishment. This is devastating for families.
Where will students go or what would they do? At my daughter’s school a few years ago the student body literally became a dumping ground for unwanted students who adversely affected the school’s culture with discipline problems or could drag down a school’s grade on standardized tests. Every child has a right to an education, and shipping them from school to school isn’t providing one or helping them with their discipline issues. Another byproduct of a centralized expulsion plan that doesn’t include suspensions is the rate that suspensions are being used to avoid dealing with the expulsion system.
As a New Orleans charter school parent I truly believe that education reform in New Orleans was a necessity. Systematic changes were needed to alleviate the bureaucracy and red tape that was preventing educators and administrators to flourish, use their talents and to cultivate a method of educating that would be beneficial to each child they encounter. But this notion of “grappling with discipline” is disappointing to me.
Actually an autonomous school has more of a responsibility to students and families. Their policies on discipline are crucial to establishing the environment primed to implement their groundbreaking learning strategies. Charter organizations have to get it right for the benefit of our kids. The grappling should be over and a solid discipline plan should be taking its place.