Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Should Schools Turn Discipline Over to the Law?

I'm thinking about becoming a teacher, so I'm reading of blogs and articles about the profession these days.

The NEA has a piece about violence in schools. It's a complicated pictures.

However, a few things stood out to me that are of interest to parents. First, there's this:
And now safety records are under scrutiny because of provisions in the No Child Left Behind law that require schools to develop their own definitions of "persistently dangerous." Avoiding that label, which, if imposed, allows parents to transfer their children out of the school, is an incentive for underreporting violent incidents.

A. Do I really want that definition to vary by school?
B. Did that program accomplish anything it was meant to do??

The article also mentions this:
Over the past decade, the district has slashed programs for physical education, music, and other arts, cutting off important outlets for students.

"Students need something more than math and social studies," says Dennis Oulahan, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. "Education becomes less and less of a positive experience and the climate of the school suffers. Students become angrier and more confrontational, and staff sometimes bear the brunt of student frustration."

And this is why we should fight against physical education and arts programs being cut. That said, I do feel like part of the reason the bullies were better after recess is because, yes, they were able to take their aggressions out during recess - by bullying the little kids.

But this raised a lot of questions for me as a parent:
When a threat is made, the team convenes to discuss the facts behind the threat and whether it is likely to be carried out. Ultimately, says Cornell, the process is concerned not with whether the student has made a threat, but with whether a student actually poses a threat.

The model divides threats into two categories: transient and substantive. Distinguishing between the two is a crucial component of any assessment program.

Transient threats typically include such comments from students as "You better watch it" or "I'm gonna get you," and are not likely to be carried out. When the threat assessment guidelines were field tested in 35 schools across the country, more than 70 percent of the reported threats were classified as transient.

Well, yes, no one in their right mind would call the police if someone said, "You better watch it." Although, I have seen police reports with "I'm gonna get you" listed as terroristic threatening.

But I wonder if the school is putting itself in legal jeopardy by taking on this role?

Maybe schools need to consult the police on this type of stuff. After all, they're the experts in criminal behavior. They should be able to provide guidance into when acting out is segueing into a crime. I propose that schools really aren't experts at criminal behavior and really don't want to gain that experience the hard way.

The bigger question to me is where you draw the line between the legal system and schools. How many times can a school act as sanctuary for criminal behavior before putting others in jeopardy and opening itself up to a legitimate lawsuit?

Is it a crime only if a teacher is involved? At one point are you actually doing my child and the teachers a disservice by not reporting another student's criminal behavior? (Because, yes, threats are a crime.)

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