“An 8th grader talked 6th grader, name unknown, into having oral sex on the bus. The principal was called.”
That’s bus incident No. 709293, reported by a school bus driver last year, with the names redacted for confidentiality reasons. Here are some more:
• “8th grader threatened to kill a student with a letter opener held to boy’s head.” (Cecil County)
• “6th grader beat another student on the bus so badly he ended up with a concussion.” (Anne Arundel County)
• “Student suspended for head-butting a bus driver.” (Carroll County)
• “Bus driver knocked to ground while trying to break up a fight. Police called.” (Anne Arundel County)
• “Student threatened to kill bus driver with a knife in her backpack.” (Howard County)
In response, many Maryland school systems are installing cameras in school buses and requiring bus drivers to take “Student Management” and “Diversity Training” courses.
However, said retired Baltimore school bus driver Craig Joyner, “We can’t restrain them. We can’t touch them, so what can we really do? They can really take over the bus. All we can do is pull over and call the police.”
It’s even worse in classrooms. According to a recent Baltimore Sun report, last year Baltimore schools recorded 873 student suspensions for physical attacks on staff, including:
• “Student grabbed a (cord) around my neck ... slapped my face, hit my chest and bit my left and right arms.”
• “Employee was escorting student from the room, student slammed door hitting her in the abdomen. Employee was pregnant, went into labor.”
• “(Teacher) was restraining a fighting student who threw a desk and chair at him.”
• “Third-grader was standing on desks and throwing chairs ... The banging and expletives drew (teacher) out of her classroom. The third-grader rammed into (teacher’s) stomach, then knocked her to the floor.”
This incident was treated as an accident, not as an assault, and the third-grader returned to the classroom taunting the teacher bragging that he had “put (the teacher) out.”
Last year 34 percent of the Baltimore school system’s workers’ compensation claims were for student assaults/altercations ($1.4 million).
A recent report that 91 Maryland pre-K students (4-year-olds) were suspended was met with outrage by liberals complaining that there’s no reason, whatsoever, for suspending such darling toddlers. Except, most of the pre-K suspensions were for physical attacks on teachers and students while some were for sexual activity and gun possession. Four-year-olds!
So, what’s the state school board’s solution to school violence? Answer: Relax discipline standards and make suspensions a “last resort.”
Under the new regulations issued in January, local school systems must reduce suspensions because kicking out disruptive students makes them “fall behind,” putting them “at risk.”
Also, local school systems must now explain why a “disproportionate” number of minority and special ed students are being disciplined. Celebrating Maryland’s discipline “reforms,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Baltimore in January announcing that “it is adult behavior that has to change.”
Historically, America’s schools served dual missions, education and socialization. Education means teaching the three R’s, socialization means teaching kids from various backgrounds society’s behavior norms.
Until now, the goal was to raise the kid to the norms, but now we’re lowering the norms to the kid. If the kid can’t meet the standards, lower the standards.
It’s the same thing schools did with social promotions (if a student fails, pass him anyway) and with graduation exams (if large numbers of minority students can’t graduate because they fail the exams, water down the exams).
So, just as public education dictates that a class will only learn as fast as its slowest learner, now a class will only be as orderly as its most disorderly misbehaver. This “no child left behind” mentality punishes the deserving many to benefit the undeserving few.
In Maryland we’re replacing discipline with “restorative justice” which “rehabilitates and reconciles offenders with their victims” by “community conferencing.”
Here’s how it works, according to Barbara Sugarman Grochal, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Dispute Resolution: “A circle of people, the offender, the victim and others impacted by a crime gather for a discussion facilitated by a neutral restorative practices practitioner ... Offenders are asked to share their stories ... The suffering families hear from the individuals about who they are as human beings. (The victims) have a chance to look the offender ‘in the eye’ and speak their minds ... The group is given the opportunity to make things better ... an agreement reached may include public service, counseling or perhaps mentoring.” And maybe a chorus of “Kumbaya,” followed by a group hug.
Clearly, what walks through many schoolhouse doors these days is a cadre of feral youths who, through no fault of their own, are incapable of behaving and learning. Pretending that “restorative justice” together with school bus cameras, metal detectors and onsite “resource officers” (cops) can compensate for these kids’ depraved home lives is pure denial.
And sacrificing order and learning by keeping these feral youths in the school setting is tragically unfair to teachers, staff and the educations of well-behaved students. If society really wants to help feral students, create special centers with specially trained staff to help them, if possible, adjust their behavior to classroom standards. Relaxing standards accomplishes nothing.
Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.