Discipline Code Restrictions

Oct 6, 2016 by

The main reason that parents send their children to parochial rather than public schools is not religious piety. Many of their students come from homes that are not particularly observant or where a different faith is practiced. Nor is comparative quality of instruction and curriculum the deciding factor.  It is safety.

Whether or not their perceptions are groundless, parents act upon them. Public schools would be well-advised to think hard and perhaps learn a thing or two.

By and large, parochial school parents prefer a more traditional approach to student discipline that has not been compromised by bureaucratic meddling, “social justice: data goals, inhibiting regulations, political pressure and publicity spin. They call this “permissiveness.”

That view, mistaken as it may be, may become entrenched even more because of the new changes in the public school discipline code that Mayor DeBlasio and  Chancellor Farina have instituted.

Public school principals have lost the power to suspend students for defying authority. To do so they will be required to get consent from the Department of Education headquarters far away. The decision-maker will have no direct knowledge of the child, no interest in his “priors”, and will not have to deal with the consequences of his being emboldened by relative impunity in the presence of his witnessing peers.

Because the DOE is on record as avidly equating lower suspension rates with successful leadership, and since the people in charge of authorizing suspensions will be underlings of the folks who have made perfectly clear that they regard reduced suspensions as the cornerstone of their mission, it’s a fair bet that the numbers will go down.

Their job will be made easier by the phrase “defies authority”. It means nothing because it can mean anything, from refusing to stand in line to throwing a book at a teacher’s head after being told not to. That category of offense lends itself to more interpretations than the Star Spangled Banner.  It is too broad, flexible and vague. It allows a foregone conclusion to be reached before evidence is examined, though it will always be presented for show.

The City is counting on the general public’s presumption that the decline in suspensions signifies an improvement in school decorum and this will spur confidence in the schools. It possibly will but probably won’t.

Opinions vary whether this is a “Pandora’s Box”, a “Slippery Slope or a “Hornet’s Nest.”  Pick your poison.

There are more subscribers to the practical philosophy of “tough love” among the ranks than there are in high places at the DOE, though I suspect there are some “lone wolf” practitioners in the field.  Except in the most extreme situations,  the DOE equates punishment of students with authoritarian intolerance and ignorance.

They call themselves “progressives” and “child advocates” as though the defense of children and pursuit of progress were opposed by people with differing views of student discipline. Nobody has a monopoly on how to dispense or even define them. Everyone professes to be taking the “high road.”

Some parochial school parents, and many others also, are wary of what they deem the gimmick-orientation of public schools. They can be humored by it up to a point when it comes to a syllabus, but not when they feel their child may be put in harm’s way by what they consider liberal experimentation.

The flames of their suspicion are sure to be fanned by the DOE’s latest innovation in disturbance  containment.

Every public school must have a “De-escalation Plan” for managing violent and other disruptive  behavior, Educators will receive professional development in de-escalation and there will be a sprinkling of extra clinicians at hotspots.

“Professional development” is a path that has led to very mixed results in teacher training and student performance. Some, especially its providers, swear by it. Others swear against it. These critics frown on language that sanitizes or obscures. In their view, the school system is adept at linguistical plastic surgery.

“It is what it is” certainly is not the DOE’s mantra when it comes to calling out the culpable.

All parents want what’s best for their children.  And all kids, including troublemakers, must be protected from abuse, but not from proportional penalties if they have offended. And though they deserve constructive empathy and support, they cannot be allowed to sabotage the learning environment.

There is a fine line between going “the extra mile” for challenging kids and putting up with mayhem and cloaking it with distractions. Critics believe that discipline enforcement in public schools is notoriously lax.

Hopefully this will remain a fallacy under the “De-Escalation” panacea. But it is critical that in the area of student discipline correction, public schools not become hamstrung by binding DOE interference.

Unlike parochial and other private schools, they can neither turn students away nor expel them. And due to the increased mainstreaming of emotionally special-needs kids, it may be more difficult to establish and maintain classroom order.

Public schools are much safer than their detractors allege. And the overall quality of education they deliver is rarely rivaled and never surpassed. Polls show that parochial and private school parents overwhelmingly respect teachers and are by no means hostile to public schools.

The remaining skeptics must be shown that those same public schools that have educated millions of people to the betterment of the nation, are not only bastions of academic excellence but also of civility and control.

May we expect the DOE’s discipline code to advance that worthy aim!

Ron Isaac

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1 Comment

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    Chris Doeller

    The use of moral suasion to modify a student’s behavior became popular in public schools after the 2nd world war. Since then, the trend has been to ban any form of physical and often psychological punishment. Classroom management is a thorny subject often relying on a teacher’s innate ability to control his/her student’s behavior. As a former recalcitrant child, and later a teacher, I witnessed the difficulties my teachers, and later, I had with a class of unruly children. Today’s public school often has a very tenuous connection with a child’s parents, where the private or parochial school does not. Self selecting is a primary tool which non public schools can elicit student performance, even without resting to punishment. To date, I have read little which has been offered up to assist new teachers, or teachers who struggle with the problem. It often pushes out potentially good teachers, who need a little time to get their classroom legs. Too often school administrators hold up one or two teachers, in their school as models for the others to follow. Having witnessed these teachers in action it became apparent that they possessed a trait or traits which could not be duplicated. School administrators too often blame the teacher for their inability to work magic, and they too have no ability to make suggestions nor create an outside of the classroom enforceable mechanism which insures a teacher will secure a base level of student cooperation. Looking back on my own willfulness, and how it was cured, had much to do with two sisters who became teachers, at the same time as I entered a high school which had a wide range of technical (shop) program offerings. Mu success in these lab settings made tempered my outlook in the other “academic” classes. The near decimation of these programs, these past 30 years must have many a student feeling unable to succeed. For some its sports, for others its a technical program.

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