To study public school policies on violence and disruption these days requires one to take a furtive walk across the stage in the Theater of the Absurd. To survive the trip you must relinquish any stubborn reasoning skills you’ve held on to. They will only serve to provoke madness in this journey.
I say this as someone with MANY dear friends who have dedicated their lives as teachers and administrators at public schools. They are super people, one and all. They love students passionately. But I fear that they have come victims of a labyrinthine system that no one can repair. It is a microcosm of government in that it is a system that has become so large that it has exceeded the point where efficiency is prized…only maintenance of the status quo. Part of that includes blind adherence to Zero Tolerance Policies.
At one end of the extreme, I’ll direct you to a pair of stories from this past week. The first in Texas resulted in cops being called in to handcuff and arrest a 12-year old autistic boy. His crime? Brandishing an imaginary rifle. That’s right. Not even a stick or a broom was wielded menacingly.
The second case was from Connecticut. We are not told the ages of the suspects but cops were called in when they apparently made guns out of Legos and began playfully firing them at each other. The fact that they were playing with Legos in the first place suggests the kids are quite young. 6-8 years old I’m guessing. I repeat, the POLICE were called in.
Of course the district’s School Superintendent issued a statement that included all of the lovely gobbledygook we’ve come to expect from politicians who talk a lot but say little.
“School leaders and local police partners were able to investigate and resolve the issue internally with use of restorative practices. Appropriate steps were taken at the school level to insure the safety of all students and to impress upon the students the seriousness of engaging in positive peer interactions while avoiding conduct that may pose risk or concern to others. All children need to feel safe and secure within the learning environment and we all have a role to play to make that happen.”
*sigh* So let’s venture to the other end of the stage where actual malfeasance is overlooked as part of a marketing ploy.
We all know what happened in Parkland-Florida back on Valentine’s Day. A former student entered the school and shot and killed 17 classmates. Since then we have learned that Nicholas Cruz was a troubled student with a history of disciplinary issues. But he was also a pawn in a larger game where schools were incentivized to put up with as much misbehavior as possible before even suspending a student, much less arresting them.
In 2013, the Obama administration’s Department of Education encouraged school districts in the US to adopt a well-intentioned policy meant to reduce the “school-to-prison pipeline” for young people. Those districts were encouraged to NOT suspend or expel students with egregious disciplinary offenses. Also campus police were discouraged from arresting them for misdemeanor violations. The thinking was that if the teens graduated with a police record, it would be harder for them to find a job, get a scholarship, join the military, etc.
Broward County was one of 53 school districts in the nation to adopt new discipline policies based upon these guidelines. They went from having one of the highest rates of students arrested in Florida to having one of the lowest.
The Orlando Sun-Sentinel outlined the details in a damning story on Saturday. To wit:
“Broward Schools have grown so tolerant of misbehavior that students like Nikolas Cruz are able to slide by for years without strict punishment for conduct that could be criminal. The culture of leniency allows children to engage in an endless loop of violations and second chances, creating a system where kids who commit the same offense for the 10th time may be treated like it’s the first, according to records and interviews with people familiar with the process.”
The article also spoke with a recently-retired teacher who had taught in the system for 37 years.
“My principal basically would tell me it was his job to market the school. He was adamant about not looking bad,” Fitzgerald said.
This, of course, came after Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie assured the public that Cruz had NOT been part of the “Promise program” which catered to the worst offenders. Turns out he HAD been referred to the program. Another lie.
Cruz had been accused of some of the very offenses which the Broward County School District, by policy, was not reporting. There can be little doubt that such information would have appeared on an NICS background check when he went to purchase the AR-15 he used to kill 17 people.
So on one hand, we have a system of school policies that mandates police be called even when it is obvious there is no gun or any danger whatsoever. On the other hand, a series of policies to more-or-less ignore ACTUAL violent and anti-social behavior—all in an effort to get a school to score well when it comes to standardized benchmarks of performance.
Once upon a time, teachers would have told the Lego Gun Bandits or the Autistic Rifleman to “cut it out.” And life would go on. Today, Zero Tolerance Policies dictate police must be called in.
That is not “progress.”
What is the one thing that is missing in these two extremes…where cops arrest children for imaginary guns while turning a blind eye towards teens that are committing *actual* violence? Common Sense is what’s missing.
A teacher should be able to look at an autistic boy playing with an imaginary rifle and be able to determine that the cops do NOT need to be called. Conversely, an administrator should be able to examine a clear and cluttered history of violence and anti-social behavior from an obviously-troubled high school teen, and not be bound by policy to ignore it as part of an effort to keep arrest rates down and graduation rates up.
Again, the causalities are Common Sense. The causalities are our ability to think, reason and judge. The result is a preposterous situation where children with imaginary guns are treated like criminals; while teens who commit violence are treated with kid gloves.