Monday, April 25, 2016

Suspension Repression Bill Exempts Most Charters

HB 833 by Rep. Leger is an effort to reduce suspensions of students in public schools. There is great concern by many well intentioned community leaders that students who are suspended multiple times from school often drop out and never get a high school diploma. All of this feeds into the narrative of a school-to-prison pipeline, because students who get in trouble in school and drop out often graduate instead to petty crime or drug dealing and then to more serious crime and inevitably to prison. Many well intentioned persons believe that a reduction in school suspensions will somehow end the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years alternatives to suspension have included programs such as Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). These usually involve positive behavior reinforcement and various counseling services that attempt to get at the root causes of misbehavior in school and in society.

What HB 833 in its original form attempted to do was to set limits on school suspensions for each school based on national and then state averages. Schools authorities would be required to devise plans to reduce suspensions. If the schools exceeded the limits set by the law and then failed in attempts to reduce suspensions over a 2 year period, a special master could be appointed and paid for by the school system to force the suspension rate down. All of this would be overseen by our State Department of Education with assistance of another special task force representing all kinds of stakeholders. The author of the bill is in the process of amending his own bill probably in an attempt to soften some of the mandates. The revised bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee this Wednesday. I will try to get advance copies of the amendments and explain the changes to my readers, but I fear that this is just one more opportunity for interference by the state in the operation of our local schools that will do more harm than good.

Unfortunately advocates of alternatives to suspension fail to realize that most schools do not have the funding necessary to send interventionists to every classroom where students act up and act out and disrupt orderly class activities. We can't have it both ways. We can't have a system where disruptive students know that school authorities have no power to remove them when they curse and disrespect their teachers and generally cause chaos in classrooms and still expect to somehow maintain good learning conditions. You just can't have effective classrooms without order, discipline and respect for the rights of other students. PBIS and Restorative Justice take time and extra staff, which in these times of budget problems in Louisiana, the legislature is not going to provide. But even if we had adequate staffing of guidance counselors and social workers in addition to security staff, we still can't tolerate one or two students disrupting educational activities for 25 other students, not even for one day. Because if one student is allowed to disrupt class today and does not even get a slap on the wrist, then 5 other students will be disrupting class tomorrow and the day after. Then our legislature will want to know why our students are not progressing satisfactorily in acquiring basic academic skills.

The last time a similar bill came up in the legislature, the strongest opponents were charter school administrators who have attempted to create reputations of running schools guaranteeing safe and productive environments for students. Their program has included policies that require all students to abide by strict and often regimented discipline codes. Any students who failed to cooperate were simply shown the door using either suspensions or by "counseling out". So the most disruptive students in charter schools inevitably showed up for services as the real public schools. This has been a major complaint of public school authorities who see their schools as a dumping ground for the problems that charter schools don't want to serve. This trend provides an extra bonus to charter schools because generally the biggest discipline problems in a school are the very same kids who drag down the test score averages and lower the school performance score.

The original version of HB 833 specifically exempted the type 1, type 3 and type 4 charter schools. This would insure that charters that were often formed as a way of avoiding difficult to educate students would have a guaranteed dumping ground for their rejects.

It is wrong to have a two tiered system of education where only a minority of students can attend orderly schools and the rest of the students are forced to attend schools that have no authority to discipline students who are often dangerous and habitually disrupt school.

In addition to the impossibility of running a good school without reasonable disciplinary authority, I can tell you that young teachers who are employed to teach in schools where teachers have little backing in maintaining order and respect often see each school day as their hell on earth. There is almost nothing more degrading for a teacher than to be forced to tolerate students who bully and humiliate teachers each day and deprive all others of their right to an education.

Suspension is just about the only disciplinary tool left to school administrators. There is no money to hire extra interventionists or monitors for detention and in-school suspensions. Students who are disruptive and disrespectful of their teachers don't do punish work, don't respond to loss of privileges, and often have no real parental guidance. Artificially preventing school authorities from using suspensions removes the last vestige of their ability to run an orderly and productive school.

It is my belief that mandatory reductions in school suspensions would do absolutely nothing to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. In fact, it may make matters worse. When students learn in school that they can bully and disrespect their teachers as well as other students and no real consequences result, they begin to think that they can go through life without boundaries. But that does not work when they get to adulthood and find that the criminal justice system does not have Restorative Justice and PBIS. At some point the coddling of rule breakers and law breakers will end. Most of these students will have no salable skills to fall back upon and will often become habitual offenders costing themselves and society terrible consequences.

Please use this link to the House Education Committee to look up the Representatives from your area. You can click on each name to get their email address and phone number. This is your chance to be heard by your Representative. Don't pass it up.

Please tell your House Education Committee member that HB 833 will not work and should be defeated!

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