45-Day Suspension of 7-Year-Old

Apr 20, 2017 by

Never say never. Well, hardly ever. Substitute “only as a last resort” when recommending for how long and under what circumstances students should be suspended from school for extreme violence or persistent disruption.

Physically banning a student from school and cutting him off from direct instruction sends the wrong message. Exile is not an option. Sometimes it is exactly what the kid wants. It enables them with the power to trigger a vacation at will. It also implicitly denigrates the value of education by making it dispensable and encourages resentment.

Schools are not troubled except that students make them so. Nonetheless, by suspending its students, school administrators are acknowledging their own strategic and sometimes human failure. Still, despite a school’s failed efforts to deal with a student’s errant behavior, it is the student’s responsibility to practice self-control, and not the shame of adults in authority for not convincing them that it is worth their while.  We must all learn the consequences of our conduct, for better or worse. It is part of growing up, or used to be.

Years ago, before “alternate learning centers”, “SAVE rooms” and “restorative justice” sessions, students would be thrown out, spend a week on the street as though they were feral, be entrusted with no expectation of work, and then return to school none the wiser and none the calmer.

However, there still are times when removing the student from the rest of the school community is absolutely justified. A staff developer once called this ‘antiseptically bouncing” and I’ve laughed at this kind of jargon ever since. But except for instances of criminality, the instances when traditional suspension is a viable option are few and far-between.

Our public schools are forced by senior administrators and politicians to abrogate their duty to punish students, regardless of the severity of their deeds. Instead they apply pop-psychology and impose restrictions on corrective action in order to engineer or fudge statistics that lend themselves to publicity stunts and illusions of improvement.

Making it nearly impossible to suspend students allows the DOE to accurately claim that suspensions have been reduced, and certain people lap up the deceit and figure that schools have become more tranquil, tolerant and learning-friendly, because their methods of managing challenges is more enlightened.

Many cynical principles have gotten big bonuses based on this tall story.

No doubt many of our public schools have sincerely tried to find and take the “high ground” in protecting students from cruel and unwarranted discipline. I don’t think that charter schools go to quite the same length.

But when public school advocates attack all charters for needless excesses and insensitivity, I think they’re off the mark.  As a staunch public school supporter, I must yield to the truth that in some cases, the greater rigidity of some charter schools to uphold decorum is preferable to allowing one child to obliterate the quality of the learning environment for everyone else.

When I started to read a story in the Daily News last week about the Success Academy’s 45-day suspension of a 7-year old student, I was ready to condemn them. After all, I am acquainted with their dreadful overall record. But if the allegations about the child’s behavior are substantiated, then Success Academy’s reaction must, painful as it is to admit, be considered proportionate.

According to the Daily News article, the child “tussled” with an assistant principal…hit staffers…destroyed classroom items, and ran away from class in multiple incidents” since last October. According to Success Academy, the “scholar” ( that’s what they call all students there), there were “repeated episodes of his hitting, biting, throwing furniture, and quite literally dragging an assistant principal down the hall by yanking her hair.”  The child been suspended ten times since January.

According to the child’s mom, “he’s just a child.”  An “independent city Education Department hearing officer” found that the boy’s behavior was not severe enough to justify the suspension and ordered the child reinstated.

If Success Academy exaggerated, fabricated or otherwise distorted the boy’s conduct, then they are seriously culpable and must be sanctioned in some way. But if the boy acted out as alleged, then they took appropriate measures to safeguard the other children and adults there.

Infinite forbearance with mischief-making that rises to chronic mayhem is an unwholesome permissiveness that sends the wrong signal to everyone, especially the youngsters, including the perpetrator, who are in a formative developmental stage of understanding about life, making them victims of a confused recognition of right and wrong, cause and effect.

And it also makes parents of public school students flock and indeed flee into the embrace of non-public schools where their first duty, to the safety and security of their own flesh and blood, is not a political football.

Ron Isaac


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