Ron Isaac’s Commentary: Dial “911” for Discipline?

Jun 16, 2021 by

Advocates for Children of New York analyzed “child in crisis” data from 2016-2020 and found a disturbing jump in the number of public school students, especially Black and Latino, who were removed from class and sent to a hospital for psychological evaluation

When this was done to protect a child displaying emotional distress, it may be a prudent step “in an abundance of caution”.  But not if is punishment for a violation of a school’s disciplinary code, such as when a kindergarten student was handcuffed.  This actually occurred and is an extreme example of a common tool of official intimidation.

Removal from school is a dramatic measure that can cause a student long-term trauma, particularly when it was an avoidable consequence of a bad judgement call.  Calling an ambulance to get a kid “scared straight” is beyond unprofessional, yet is tacit standard operating procedure in some schools.

But situations arise when students need to be taken to the hospital, sometimes in anticipation of an aggravated risk to self or public safety. There is no exact objective measurement.  No risk should be taken with drug-induced or other psychotic behavior and expression of suicidal thoughts, even when confided to staff. 

In an actual instance, a kindergarten teacher was reprimanded by her principal for calling “911” when a student suffered a severe seizure, because the teacher hadn’t first asked the principal’s permission. And when the child spontaneously recovered a few minutes later, the principal curtly ordered the teacher to cancel the call. 

When she was an aspiring principal at the leadership Academy, nobody explained to her the difference between a call to EMS and to the pizza delivery guy.

But the Advocates for Children report is not focused on student removals for obvious medical reason. Instead, it presents evidence that implicitly argues against using such punishment as a go-to strategy for containing defiance rather than de-escalating it in-house by means of “restorative justice”. 

They are correct in their belief that coercion should be minimized and comprehending of what children have done wrong is far more beneficial to the child and the school community.

This sounds well and good and works most of the time.  But anyone who has even worked in a school knows that there are times, especially in middle and high schools, when children must be separated.

The report recommends the abolition of all police from our schools.  This includes the safety agents who, though nominally part of the NYPD, are trusted members of every school and perform tasks that rarely involved adversarial engagement with students.

That is unrealistic. In a radio interview last week,civil right leader Hazel Dukes strongly opposed de-funding the police and removing them from schools, while ensuring that they be held to heightened standards of civility.

“Child advocacy”, though it is sometimes reduced to a buzzword, is laudable. But it must not translate into automatic defense of children no matter what they have done in breach of adult authority.  Let there be checks and balances.  And let learning and security thrive.

Ron Isaac

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