SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

Improving the District, step by step… school discipline

I thought I would begin with a topic I confront everyday – school discipline.  As a juvenile justice attorney, the security of the school environment is central to the work I do.  Also, as a parent, assurance that your child will be safe and secure at his or her school is of paramount importance.  This article is an attempt to look more deeply into the issue of school discipline.

At this time, with our school district budget hemorrhaging dollars, we must refocus on those programs and people who can help realize student success without additional cost.  School disruptions and discipline is an area where a rededicated effort ensures that we do not unnecessarily lose kids from our district while strengthening the school site toward our goal of academic achievement for every student.

I am aware that our district has policies in regard to school discipline.  However, after consultation and research, I believe that the school district still does not devote enough attention and thought to the issue.  There lacks an ongoing commitment to school discipline issues where school sites are left without proper support, and partnerships and consistency are neglected.  And in the end, our students suffer.

A proper school discipline program must be flexible, built into the school structure and administered fairly across schools, individuals and grade levels.  Non-disruptive students should not be harmed by those youth who fail to heed the school structure.  At the same time, the public education system must strive to enfranchise and educate all of its students and collaboratively work with each child to reach this goal.  We should not lose any child to discipline issues without a determined, particularized approach that brings to bear our district’s best intentions, thoughts and resources to the problem.

At the school site, early intervention is the most important piece in maintaining a safe and secure school environment.  And, two personnel of import to this model are school administrators and teachers.  They know each student, his or her life challenges and personal quirks.  As a child advocate, my work with children and youth depends upon my ability to accurately identify the differences between each child and respond accordingly.  Teachers and administrators are called upon to make these decisions as well.  In addition, parents are as crucial to an early intervention model.  Oftentimes, administrators will learn of important information that could explain, and help remedy, the student’s situation.  A proactive, successful early intervention model relies on collaboration between teachers, administrators, parents and the student.

Early intervention plans, then, are student specific.  They should include norms of behavior.  Rewards for positive behavior and sanctions for continued disruption should be made clear.  A written contract between the parties is a sane and efficacious solution.  Regardless, collaboration and consultation should be ongoing and continuous.  It truly takes a team effort to ensure that the student is brought back into the educational enterprise while guaranteeing that other students are not negatively impacted by disruptive behavior.

One issue I find concerning is the failure to maintain and implement a consistent approach to school discipline throughout the district.  In my opinion, the policy should continue to be guided by defined principles.  First, the policy should seek to maintain and ensure fairness between and among each and every school.  All students should be assured a modicum of equity.  Fairness and equity for every student throughout the district should be articulated broadly but specifically.  Although codified in writing, the district must do more to ensure equity in fact as it pertains to each student.

Second, the policy should not tie the hands of school site administrators and teachers.  Rather, the policy should institute a defined flexibility, allowing for latitude in approach and implementation.  Individual needs, both with the student and at the school site, must prevail over a dogmatic, bureaucratic system.  Specific district mandates are not the solution.

In addition, development and implementation of two processes is needed.  First, the policy should focus on sharing best practices developed at the school site level throughout the district.  One of the strengths of the district office is its vantage point.  It can reach out to school administrators and teachers to learn the efficacy of their intervention models.  The most successful models can be communicated to administrators and teachers at other schools.  At its best, various school personnel can share ideas and solutions to specific problems, thereby improving school site policies and education district-wide.

The district must bring together school site administrators and teachers to bring about and maintain a forum for best practices.  As the needs of children change, new strategies emerge for assisting students and improving the quality of the classroom environment.  The district can proactively act as a receptor for information, communicating these best practices to each school site for implementation.

Second, the district needs to implement more rigorously an internal mechanism to develop and oversee best practice models.  The district should maintain a clearinghouse for best practices.  Although I understand school sites are mandated to file their local school discipline plans, a periodic review of those plans should be undertaken.  This review is with an eye toward what is working at the school site level, both for the school as well as individual students.

Development and oversight of best practice models include outreach to parents and students.  Parent opinion needs inclusion in this periodic review and should not be limited to the school site.  Students who evidence a strong turnaround in part because of the school site’s efforts should be interviewed.  Academic and education literature review might be a good idea given the ever-changing climate within which our educational system operates.  Reexamination of the oversight processes and involved personnel should be done intermittently.

Our goal should be to provide the necessary resources and proper accommodations so that every student receives a world-class education.  In these lean budgetary times, the district would be wise to refocus on the issue of school discipline and begin the process of rededicating its efforts toward this policy area.  I believe that with the right mix of dedication and thoughtfulness, our district can improve academic performance and student achievement so that each and every student thrives both academically and personally.


Written by jeffcuneo

April 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Strengthening our perimeters

The recent case of Gary Tudesko, the Willows student who was expelled (then reinstated) for having hunting guns in his pickup truck (parked next to his high school campus) referenced the question of whether school officials have the authority to enforce what goes on beyond the school’s sidewalk.

Today’s protest by Westboro Baptist Church zealots
on the edges of the McClatchy and Rosemont high school boundaries brings up the same question. Does the state’s education code need to be strengthened to better protect our students on their campus perimeters?

Let’s forget about gun laws and free speech laws for a moment. The pertinent question is: do we want our students potentially exposed as targets because the safe zones around our schools do not extend far enough to protect them from possible harm?

Written by scusdobserver

February 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm