Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Has the Teacher Bill of Rights Been Repealed?

Last week Lafayette Parish teacher, Abby Breaux, went before her school board and read a letter describing the conditions in many of our schools that are driving good teachers out of the profession. That letter was printed in the Washington Post and got rave reviews from teachers all over the country who are confronted each day by the same demoralizing conditions.

Breaux's letter focused on two major issues. One was the disrespect of the teaching profession by our public officials when they make sweeping changes to public education without so much as consulting the experts in the classrooms. That concern was echoed all over the state in the forums hosted recently by LAE to hear teacher concerns about the current “Jindal reforms”.

The other big issue raised by Abby's letter was the concern by teachers about a growing breakdown in basic classroom discipline and the perception by teachers that our policy makers are changing school practices and policies to make student discipline worse rather than better! Teachers feel that when you add this deterioration of classroom discipline to the huge burden of paperwork and red tape heaped on today's teachers, for some teachers, it becomes sheer torture to stay in the classroom.

Abby said it all when she said: “Enough is enough!”

That brings me to section LRS 17:416 of Louisiana education law. Specific amendments to this law were passed at the insistence of teachers in the 1990's. A bill on teacher student discipline rights was authored by former Senator Armond Brinkhaus who at that time represented part of Lafayette Parish. This law, for the first time in Louisiana history, gave the regular classroom teacher the direct authority to take certain actions to maintain discipline in her/his classroom. Before this law, each teacher was totally dependent on the actions of her/his principal to back the teacher up in maintaining classroom discipline. Some did an excellent job of backing teachers and some just kept shoving the discipline problems back to teachers without giving them any real authority to do anything that would make a real difference. That's why the Brinkhaus legislation was passed. I was involved in drafting and helping to lobby the law through the legislative process.

When Governor Bobby Jindal started his first term, he supported and signed into law a bill that added section 416.18, The Teacher Bill of Rights. This law took some of the major requirements of Section 416 and summarized them into the rights of teachers particularly as they relate to classroom discipline. The Teacher Bill of Rights also required respect for the decisions of teachers in disciplining students and stipultated that parents could be required by teachers to attend a conference with the teacher when their child disrupted the classroom or behaved in a manner disrespectful to the teacher. That was the old Bobby Jindal before he got on the kick of blaming teachers for all the problems of education.

If you read the Teacher Bill of Rights and Section 416 it should be crystal clear that all Louisiana teachers are supposed to have the right to run their classrooms without worring about disruption or disrespect from students, parents or administrators. Sadly this is not the case in some schools and in some school systems. Some school systems and some schools are not enforcing Section 416. In fact some systems are actively discouraging the enforcement of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights. And this is often being done blatantly with the Teacher Bill of Rights posted in each classroom and at the beginning of the student discipline policy handbook! Would you be surprised to learn that the circumvention of Section 416 is often being done at the behest of our own State Department of Education?

Section 416 of Louisiana law is being violated every day in some school systems at the insistence of the LDOE. That's because the amateurs who now run our LDOE are much more concerned about keeping disruptive students in the classroom at all costs than they are about the teacher's explicit rights defined by Section 416 to have an orderly classroom.

The DOE has decided that some school systems have too many student suspensions and too many students are being removed from the classrooms, so they have moved to force local school systems to circumvent the provisions of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights. In East Baton Rouge, the DOE has appointed a special master who has been given the power to overrule principals and teachers in maintaining classroom discipline as prescribed by Section 416. The school system has been forced to adopt discipline practices stipulated by the PBIS system in the place of Section 416. The PBIS system (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) forces teachers who are often confronted with serious classroom disruptive behavior to go through many time consuming and education killing baby steps for addressing each student's behavior. Gone is the right of a teacher to immediately remove an extremely disruptive or disrespectful student.

If a teacher attempts to have such a student removed, the teacher is immediately put on the defensive by being asked: “Before you requested that this student be removed, did you take the steps outlined in our PBIS procedure? Did you warn the student properly? Did you notify the parents? Did you provide the student the opportunity to exhibit acceptable behavior? Do you have a system in your classroom that rewards students for acceptable behavior? Are you over emphasizing negative means of controlling student behavior?”

You get the idea don't you? If there is disruptive behavior going on in a teacher's classroom it must be that the teacher is responsible because the teacher has not properly implemented the PBIS system!

I submit to you that when the PBIS system is implemented in the way described above it is simply a load of C_ _ _, and is in direct violation of the law. Such an application of PBIS or any other so called discipline policy that puts artificial obstacles in the way of enforcing classroom discipline is in direct violation of Section 416 and the Louisiana Teacher Bill of Rights. But it is being forced on teachers who are having their classroom discipline destroyed by people who have no idea what it is like to manage a classroom in today's public schools and who would not survive for a week in such a classroom.”

Now put yourself in the shoes of a parent who has a well behaved child who attends a school that has allowed disruptive and often disrespectful students to remain in the classroom and to constantly disrupt class.

What happens when such parents ask their child: “How was school today? Did you learn a lot?”

And the child responds: “Well the teacher tried, but a couple of kids kept making noise and they even talked back to the teacher when she tried to correct them and we really didn't do much in class today.”

Now multiply the above exchange by many parents repeated over several months and you will understand why parents criticize some public schools and want to pull their children out.

If any of the persons reading this blog is a classroom teacher who has this happening in her/his school, my advice is don't quit. Talk to other teachers in your school and form a group like the "fearless fousome" who started a facebook page, and start to do something to change things. The law is on your side. And you are right to want to have a disciplined and productive classroom. If you are spending half a class period many days filling out PBIS or similar forms you are not teaching.

But you also cannot do it by yourself. I have seen too many cases of teachers trying to fight the system alone who get destroyed in the process. You need to organize your supporters and create a team before you start a fight. And it sure does not hurt to be a member of your union or professional organization or whatever you want to call it. That's because it takes money and expertize to go to court or to even go through a grievance procedure. How many teachers never file a grievance addressing the violations described above simply because they are all alone? This is the kind of situation that causes good teachers to just give up and quit the profession. If you value your profession I suggest you fight against violation of your rights as provided by law. But be smart, do it with support of your colleagues like the "fearless foursome" of Lafayette Parish are doing.

No, the Teacher Bill of Rights has not been repealed! Let's take full advantage of Section 416 and the Teacher Bill of Rights and stand for positive change in our classrooms.

Don't forget about the Diane Ravitch town hall meeting with teachers tonight at 5:30 pm, March 14, at the BREC building at 6201 Florida Blvd. in Baton Rouge!


kellysuch said...

Mike, I never thought about PBIS being the reason that behavior issue students continue to be issues but it COMPLETELY makes sense! PBIS really works for kids that AREN'T behavior issues. But PBIS isn't working for the behavior issues because the behavior isn't being corrected properly. It's only another system of paperwork and according to admin, a way to 'c.y.a.' so that you as a teacher can say you did EVERYTHING you could to address the situation when it's really NOT the place of a teacher to do this but the place of a behavioral interventionist or counselor. Thank you for posting this today as it was certainly the topic of discussion for a few of my teachers today.;) Kelly Stewart

Michael Deshotels said...

Thank you Kelly. I want to emphasize that the purpose of the discipline rights in section 416 is not to deprive any child of his education. When a student is removed from class for disruptive or disrespectful behavior he/she is assigned class work to keep up. The true purpose of the law is to insure that all other students in the classroom are not deprived of their education. Breakdown of discipline is the biggest reason parents lose faith in our public schools.

Fi Suttle said...

Hi Michael,
I have to begin my comment by thanking you for writing such an enlightenting blog. I am in my thrid year of teaching in CO and will be moving to the Lafayette area over the summer. I am hoping to find a job in the district as an elementary teacher. Being new to LA I appreciated reading your blog and getting the opportunity to learn about the education in LA.
Quite frankly I am terrified now. I was excited when I read about a “teacher bill of rights” and teachers having control over the discipline in their classroom however I fear that just as you said not all schools abide by the laws. I cannot imagine teaching in an environment where I am not allowed to decide what the consequences for misbehavior in a classroom should be. I am not the teacher who sends their kids to the Principal’s office at the drop of a hat however I do recognize that sometimes this is necessary. I wondered if the PBIS system was different in different districts. We currently use PBIS and I agree that yes it does work for the minor disruptions however; we are currently allowed to send a disruptive student to the Principal. Is this not the case in LA?
I appreciated the advice about not “trying to fight the system alone.” I an interested to learn more about the “fearless foursome” as well as to continue to read your blog to learn about all things education in LA.
Thanks again,

Anthony Kimble said...

I have recently been having this same discussion with individuals at my school in Caddo Parish. Administration has thrown it out the window and I am fed up! If they assisted with the 2-3 bad apples, then we could save the whole bunch!