2006-08-25 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

It's The Discipline, Stupid!
By Howard Schwach

Every year the Department of Education follows the precedent set by its predecessor, the Board of Education by establishing a new Discipline Code for the city's public schools.

Each year, when the code was issued, teachers looked at the "new" code and laughed.

The teachers laughed not because the issue is a jocular one, but because they knew with certainty that the new code would not be honored any more than the code that was issued the previous year or the one prior to that.

Discipline is perhaps the most important issue facing the school system. Without discipline, such issues as testing, curriculum, programming and parent input become mere intellectual discussions.

It's the discipline, stupid!

You would think that the Department of Education would get it, since every teacher, every administrator and every district superintendent who has ever been in a school get it.

It's the discipline, stupid!

But the Department of Education doesn't seem to get it any more than the Board of Education got it.

There has not been a viable discipline plan in the city since it did away with "600 Schools," schools designated to take the worst of the worst and warehouse them away from the rest of the system's students.

Did I say, "warehouse?" Heaven's forbid. That is not politically correct in a world that perhaps believes in the platitude that "all children can learn."

Under the "600 School" plan, constantly-disruptive students were taken from the mainstream. They were put into schools that had the toughest teachers and school aides who were off-duty police and corrections officers. The kids were given tokens for the subway and they were met at the subway entrance by the aides, who grouped them together and walked them to school.

At the school house door, they were shaken down (searched roughly) for weapons or other contraband.

They were walked to the bathroom when they had to go. They ate a silent lunch and they walked the halls in line and without speaking. There was no such thing as "passing," moving from class to class because they stayed in one room all day and the teachers came to them.

You might say that it sounds like prison. It was, and most of the kids who were in the 600 schools never got much of an education or graduated.

The benefit of the program was that all of the other kids in the schools they came from did not have to put up with their disruption and really had a chance to learn.

We can call it "Triage" if you like, a program for saving the many by sacrificing the few who probably would not have received much of an education in any case because they had a serious mental problem or they simply didn't care.

The program worked. It was halted only when the minority community decided that too many of the students in the 600 schools were black. Did those kids belong there? That had nothing to do with the program's demise. It was no longer politically correct and it went the way of technical schools and other programs that worked but were not considered to be politically correct.

For some years, the newest Discipline Guide had to be reproduced for each student. A cover page on the document had to be signed by each students and his or her parent.

What a mess that created for homeroom teachers and guidance counselors, who were made responsible for collecting the documents.

It did nothing, however, to stop the students who continued to disrupt their peers.

At the same time, principals were warned by district superintendents that too many suspensions or discipline hearings would result in their own disciplinary hearing and perhaps the loss of their position as principal.

The Board of Education ballyhooed the fact that suspensions were way down. They did not ballyhoo the fact that incidents were skyrocketing because those incidents were covered up by principals. It got so bad that the United Federation of Teachers developed an incident report of its own for teachers to fill out and file. There was hell to pay the following year when the BOE reported a drop in incidents and the UFT reported that incidents had tripled.

Those pesky teachers again.

Meanwhile, a series of new discipline codes were developed and ignored virtually each new school year.

Kids who came to school with Class I weapons, such as a gun, a knife or a box cutter were to be suspended automatically. It never happened.

Kids who attacked teachers were routinely returned to that teacher's classroom in fewer than five days.

Kids who sexually assaulted other kids were routinely allowed to wander the halls of their schools until a hearing with a parent could be scheduled and actually held.

Kids who had been tested and found to be "emotionally handicapped" could do virtually anything the wanted because the DOE had ruled that a child could not punished for an act that arose from their handicap.

Burn down the school? Sure.

Beat up a teacher? No problem.

Sexually assault another student? Hey, that's because of your handicap. Don't worry about it.

If you don't believe me, ask a teacher who worked in a school for the past ten or fifteen years.

There was no discipline.

What brings the subject up this week is the impending opening of another school year under the rule of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein as well as another "new" Discipline Code.

The new code has added something called "Intervention Measure" so that they don't have to be called punishments, a word that has become politically incorrect over recent school years.

"In providing a range of permissible disciplinary measures, the Discipline Code insures both constituency and equitable treatment for all students and enables principals and superintendents to exercise discretion and educational judgment."

That is eduspeak for "We want the code to appear to be consistent, but you can do whatever you wantand you'd better make sure that the numbers look good when its over."

A new infraction showed up this year, one that has the ACLU screaming "foul."

Students can now be disciplined for posting defamatory statements about their fellow students, their teachers or their school on line.

What a brave new world we live in. I only wish that we could go back to the 600 schools and all they meant for education.

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