2001-03-17 / Columnists

School Scope

The rules for suspense in school make no sense and they are becoming more restrictive this week.

Let’s translate the rule that a child cannot be suspended more than three times in one year to the real world.

John B. robs a bank. He is caught by police exiting the bank and is convicted and given three years in prison.

Three years later, John B. gets out. He promptly robs a bank and is caught by the bank guard on duty. He is convicted and is given five years.

Five years later, John B. gets out and on his way home he robs a bank. He is caught by customers in the bank (he is, after all, not young any more). He is convicted. He goes to jail for five more years.

John does not give up. When he gets out five years later, he robs another bank and is again caught. This time, however, he is not tried and he is not convicted. The law, you see, says that a person cannot be punished more than three times in his lifetime for any crime.

John quickly finds out about the law. He robs a bank each week. He is always caught, but he is never punished. Sure, the law provides for psychological intervention and family assistance, but John can never again be punished for his crimes. John and the other criminals love the law.

What does this have to do with school? It has everything to do with the state of our schools.

A student can only be suspended three times in a year, for five days each time. If you do not think that students know about that rule, then I have a bridge that you might want to buy.

Last week, I stopped a student from kicking another student in the head. I tried to pull the attacker off and he cursed at me. I tried to quiet him down. I reminded him that he did not want to be suspended from school, that it would go on his record.

He laughed. "I already been suspended too many times," he told me. "There is nothing that you can do to me." He added some expletives and some statements about my mother and my birth status and then he was taken away by school security.

He was right. Not about my birth status or about my mother, but about the fact that there was nothing the school could do to punish his substantial transgressions, no matter what he did.

He has robbed his third bank and he was home free.

Student "M", whom I wrote about last week, is a prime example, but he is even more protected because he is "emotionally handicapped." Short of using a weapon to kill me, he can do or say anything he wants to me or to any other person and not be punished.

You may believe that it is proper that he is not punished, but that kind of thinking spells the end of the schools.

Last week, Student M was walking down the hall without a pass during a class period. He was wearing a doo-rag and listening to a CD player. Each of those things is against the rules and I asked him to go to class, to take off the doo-rag and to put away the CD player. I told him that if I saw it again, I would take it away and his parent would have to come to school to get it. Those are the school procedures.

"F___ you and f___ your mother, you white, fat, mother f_____," he said. "Get out of my way before I snuff you."

I told him that it was not nice to curse at a person’s mother, particularly a person my age, whose mother is probably deceased.

"I’m glad that your f_____, ho, b____ mother is dead," he said, as he continued to walk down the hall as if I were not even there.

Since I had already been assaulted once by Student M in the past 30 days, I decided to take the problem to his teacher.

"That’s only the way he acts," I was told by his teacher. "He is not the worst in the class."

"My hands are tied," a supervisor told me. "There’s nothing I can do but call in his parent."

I have some questions for Matt Bromme, the district superintendent. They are the same questions that I have for Chancellor Levy, for Steve Greenberg and the rest of the local school board, and for anybody else who will listen.

The questions are: Why should any adult have to put up with that kind of behavior from a juvenile? Why are there no sanctions for that kind of behavior? How can a school survive if kids are allowed to challenge teachers in that way?

Ten minutes after my confrontation with Student M, I heard that he had gone up to the second floor and ripped all of the sixth grade work off the walls, destroying months of work by 125 students.

The security agents were told by radio to keep their eyes open for him and to bring him to the special education office. They did not need to look hard. Two minutes later, he came right past the front desk, still wearing his doo-rag and still listening to the CD player.

"I am going to have to call your father," an administrator said. "He is going to have to come to school."
Student M laughed, and he was right to laugh. He knew from experience that there was nothing we could do to him and that there was nothing his father (a well-meaning, hard working man) could do to him either.

In the past, Student M would have been given a "district suspense" and sent to another school, where he probably would have continued to do the same thing in a different setting. A student who had done like things in that school would have been transferred to my school. This is called "musical students," and it never worked.

What Student M needs is to go into a more restrictive educational environment. In special education terms, that is called a "Structured Instructional Environment," or SIE VII program. There is no room in those programs, however, and there is concern that there are too many minority kids in those programs, which may be done away with.

That argument is like saying that they are going to do away with the NBA because there are too many minority players. Those players belong in the NBA just as those kids belong in SIE VII.

In addition, the school board passed a resolution several years ago that would have set up a Second Opportunity School (SOS) in each borough. Kids who continually disrupted their home schools were to be sent to those schools until they could operate once again in the traditional classroom. The Queens school was never built because the proposed site was in LIC, right across the street from the Citicorp building and Terry Thompson, our Board of Ed rep, who works for that firm and did not like all those disruptive kids across the street from her workplace.

Why not close down MS 198, arguably the worst middle school in the district (it recently became a SURR school). Take the kids from MS 198 and place them in both MS 180 and MS 53. Make MS 198 the SOS school for all of Queens. The subway runs right behind the school.

Something has to be done to set up an alternative setting because the new suspense rules, which I admittedly have not seen in writing, purportedly say that students can no longer be suspended for five days and that they can no longer be suspended for more than 10 days each year. In addition, school officials will now have to hold a series of hearing with parents and advocates before a child can be suspended and a child cannot be moved to another school unless the parents agree.

I believe in the rights of kids, but I am admittedly more interested in the rights of kids to get an education if they want one rather than the rights of kids who continually disrupt the school.

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