Name:
Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Friday, January 07, 2005

a beginning continued

Anyone out there ever had a problem with zero-tolerance laws?

Welcome to the brave new world of criminalizing kids. In the past - in ancient times - when I was a kid problems were taken care of immediately. Most often a kid who became unruly was given detention, given sentences or - Heaven forbid - paddled. This very outmoded system was used for generations. Kids were treated like kids. Mistakes were regarded as just that - mistakes.

Unfortunately, today we treat kids as we would criminals. I make reference to the practice of using absolute standards that apply regardless of circumstances.

One of the things that just destroyed me last year was the practice of strip-searching students with regularity. The most amazing things can happen to kids in a school. Students who were assigned to our DAEP were supposed to be provided instruction on a daily basis. DAEP stands for District Alternative Education Plan. I will never forget the day I took an assignment down to a student and found all the male students had been taken out of the room. When I entered the room there was a huge commotion coming from an office off the main classroom where the cubicles for DAEP were kept. The sole remaining student in the room was a female child.

The individual in charge of the program had taken the boys out of the classroom to an office area. The aide who remained in the room was extremely upset. When I asked the aide what was going on, she informed me that they were being searched. The sound of yelling and raised voices was coming from the office area. I asked the aide what kind of search was being conducted. She told me the students were being strip searched. There were a total of 9 boys out of the classroom.

I immediately went to the principal to inform him of what was happening. He was not in his office. So, I sent him an email. The principal investigated. The fact was that the students were being strip searched. This was performed frequently. To make a very long story a bit shorter, the policy was changed. The individual in charge was reassigned. The program itself has been changed to some degree. To make matters more interesting the students were given a short period of time to get dressed. If they were not able to get dressed in the required time they were made to do exercises, disrobe again and dress again.

Think it can't happen to your child - think again. All the parents of children treated in this fashion thought that nothing like this could happen to their child. If you assume your school would never do this, you are being too trusting. What I would suggest that you do is read your districts search policy very closely.

Be sure to look at your districts policy regarding certain objects that your child may bring to school. If your child were to mistakenly bring some object to school that can be construed as a weapon, the punishment could be extreme. You need to be there for your child every time someone talks to your child at school. Do not assume that such things cannot happen at your school to your child.

Kids are now removed from the classroom for all sorts of things. Normally, a child who has been removed will be placed in some kind of an Alternative Education setting. The children in DAEP classes are supposed to receive the same instruction as children in the normal program. Often, all a child will get in a DAEP are simple worksheets with little instruction and little help.

A child in a DAEP may have brought a weapon of sort to school. Others may have uttered a profanity to a teacher. But, don't for one moment assume that the kids who are in the school program for "bad" kids are bad.

Also, don't assume that the administrator who put the child there had any choice. Many states have enacted laws that now define mandatory punishments for all kinds of offenses. Some of those offenses would have landed the kid in a detention, brought them a couple of pops with a paddle or a call to the parents in the less enlightened past.

I should tell you that I am about as conservative about discipline as they come. I support corporal punishment as an option without hesitation if it is done with the parents knowledge and permission. If a child brings a gun to school the proper response to that is obvious. But, schools need to remember that kids are not small adults. Our job as educators is to teach children. In the past discipline was offered along with a life lesson. Kids were not crushed by disciplinary policy as they are now. Kids were treated as kids.

For some reason, our society has decided to bring the weight of the world down on a child who commits certain offenses. Many schools will now bring in the police for often simple things. Many times the child will receive a ticket. The child and the parents will have to appear in court. The courts will almost invariably find for the school. When that happens your child will have a criminal record. The sentence will often include community service, service of some sort at school, a fine. Sometimes, your child may end up in the juvenile jail for something that would have brought a paddling a few years ago.

Often these policies become a source of conflict between schools and the clientele of the school. And, in almost all cases the school will win.

Here is a simple, somewhat trivial, example. In today's Houston Chronicle there is an article entitled "Parents Join Seventh-Grader in Detention". This article can be found at http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2981525.

The child in this particular case attends a middle school in the Pearland Independent School District. She was repeatedly late for the start of school. Remember that the child in question is a middle school child who does not drive. Remember also that the child is not able to impact how her parents get her to school. Basically the parents had a series of problems with their car. According to the Chronicle the mother "said the tardies came on mornings when the school bus had already passed before she found out her van wouldn't start. A recurring electrical problem with the vehicle has been remedied." As a result of the tardies the child was assigned to serve one hour of detention after school.

Yes, I know that this is a petty problem with a trivial punishment. But it is the principle underlying the situation that interests me.

The parents told the principal of the school that they were responsible for the child's tardiness. They informed the principal that the van would not start. They were honest enough to take responsiblility. Now, what would a reasonable administrator do? One might think that he would consider the nature of the problem. You might think that he would understand that a child cannot control the actions of her parents. You might think that would be all there was to the issue.

You would be wrong. According to principal Lonnie Leal "we are enforcing the handbook consequences for a student who is repeatedly late to school." It made no difference that the child had no way to get to school on those mornings other than with her chronically late parents. The comic part of this story is that the parents served the detention with the child because they were responsible for the child's tardiness.

So what? Why would I consider this a problem? Because, this is an example of a school failing to use common sense in dealing with a simple issue. Can you imagine how rigid this principal and school will be with another child who may be caught in a more serious catch 22?

The child was tardy to school. The parents told the school that it was their fault. The child is in middle school. The parents were taking the child to school. The child is not in control of the adults in charge of her. Neither the child nor the parents can repair the car with a snap of the fingers. The child cannot drive. According to the article the bus had run.

Now, who would you punish? Right, the child!

The problem here is the complete lack of common sense on the part of the school administration. What does the school expect the child to do in this circumstance? Any rational adult would understand that if there is an issue, it is with the parents. After the child is at school, moving between classes, then the child is responsible. But, the child is not responsible when the parents will not or cannot get the child to school.

So, of course, the school chose to punish the child.

Never assume that schools will look at individual circumstances when enforcing rules. Never assume that schools will give different punishments for different levels of reponsibility. We live in a one size fits all world. Never think for one instant that your child can defend himself from an assault without expecting the same punishment as his assailant. A colleague of mine told me that when her child was being bullied at his middle school, the assistant principal told him not to defend himself. The child was told to roll up in a ball on the floor with his hands protecting his head until an adult arrived. If he took the step of trying to defend himself from an assault he would be expelled with the assailant.

If you have a child in a school, believe your child. Don't immediately assume that your child is making something up. Err on the side of your child.

John McGeough

Well, its a small world. As I was closing out today's entry, I noticed this. Check this link for another example of strip searching treated as something normal by a school. Let's go to Texas City, Texas ---
http://www.local6.com/news/4061915/detail.html

Check it out.

John

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