DCPS must stop nullifying expulsions and alternative school assignments

In the interest of student privacy and avoiding FERPA violations/other retribution against those involved, I don’t feel comfortable sharing any of the multiple stories I’ve confirmed to be true regarding Duval County’s handling of discipline.

What I will say, is that Duval County has nullified expulsions/alternative school assignments, sending multiple dangerous students back to multiple neighborhood schools against the wishes of the schools’ administrations.

The best I can do at the moment is talk about my own experience that I wrote ten years ago regarding a Dean nullifying my own discipline decisions as a first-year teacher.

The parallels are strong, except I had someone to appeal to when the Dean undermined my authority, whereas these principals do not.

As always, I encourage any who doubt this is an issue to do their own research:

Written Mid-Year 2005-06

For a first year teacher like me, student behavior can become an issue at times. We are learning on the job, and learn little by little what works and what does not. I learned some things quickly, and have been able to handle most matters.

But my main problem is not with students.  In my experience, many administrators are more interested in whipping their new teachers into shape than whipping their students into shape.

To illustrate, my only real discipline issue has been with a handful of students in one of my five classes.  Like most of my classes, it’s comprised of students who have not performed well in the past. Some of the students are strong characters, and it takes a lot of creativity to manage them.

Still, I mostly deal with problems myself. I take students aside and talk to them privately.  I assign “problem” students to different seats. I send them for a timeout with another teacher. I call their parents. And, I document my actions.

But now, for the first time in any of my classes, I cut a lesson short because students talked loudly during lecture. I repeatedly told the same students to be quiet, politely but sternly. When that did not work, I finally turned off the overhead and explained, “Half of this class wants to learn; the other half doesn’t (which is accurate – many are in this class for laziness, not lack of ability). Those of you who don’t are interfering with my teaching and their learning. This will not continue.” For the first time that day, the class was silent.

Three of those students were problems from day one, and I had logs to prove it.  They neither feared their parents nor respected my requests. So, I wrote three referrals for 2.01 offenses (“Failure to follow directions regarding order in the classroom”). According to the Student Code of Conduct, a 2.01 is appropriate for students who habitually disrupt class, and mandates a minimum 2-day suspension.  Along with the referrals, I submitted six single-spaced typed pages of corrective-action logs for those three students.

The dean approached me and asked if she could change the names and publish the logs as examples in her doctoral program, because they were “a model” of what teachers are supposed to do. I was glad I had done well, and hoped the suspension would be a wake-up call for those students.

The next week, I received all three referrals – not just the teacher’s copy of the referrals as I had expected, but the entire triplicate – unprocessed.  They said, “Schedule parent conferences.” No punishment. I was slack-jawed. I had talked to their parents in the past, with no results.

After speaking to her privately, she said this was not an “order in the classroom” issue, but rather a “classroom management issue.”

Translation: an administrator looked me, a teacher, in the eye and said, “It is not the students’ fault that they were defiant: their defiance was your fault.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it. She said she would not punish the students for “Failure to follow directions,” because no one was physically threatened.  So in effect, students are free to disrupt class and be defiant to teachers; only when there is a threat of violence will administration be roused. Anything less is dismissed as being the teacher’s fault – a “classroom management issue.”

Yes, I’m a new teacher. In the future, I will learn to deal with difficult and strong-willed kids more smoothly than I do now, and diffuse tougher situations than I can presently.

In the meantime, I’m doing the best I know how. And in the moments I have a little trouble treading water, I expected administrators to throw me a rope instead of pushing me back down.

Administration tends to blame teachers for student behavior.  We should strive for a system where deans fulfill their charter to administer discipline, so teachers can concentrate on our charter to teach curriculum to students. I say this for one important reason:

After I stopped that lesson, I counted seven students who asked me for individual help. They are the victims; I’m not. For their sakes, I need the administrators on my side while I’m trying to figure out the art of teaching a little better. I don’t feel that’s unreasonable.

Teach the kids a little self-control, and give them a swift kick in the pants when they don’t exercise it.  At least that kick is from someone who cares about them and wants them to improve.  To me, that’s better than what the real world will offer them.

In fairness, I need to say how this story ended. On the advice of an experienced teacher, I took the unprocessed referrals and my six pages of documentation to the principal. By the end of the week all three students were suspended.

The principal’s actions sent the correct message to both the students and to me. Class behavior, class performance, and even my relationship with those three students all improved markedly after the suspensions.

The big difference between my situation and today: my discipline decision was nullified by a Dean, so I had someone to appeal to (my principal), and she made it right.

When a discipline decision is nullified by DCPS, there is no one to appeal to.

I’m not convinced DCPS administration have been using this power judiciously.

Leave a Comment

Filed under DCPS Issues