Kids misbehave. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is our reaction to misbehavior, or lack thereof.
We appear to live in a climate of extremes, and in this case, it’s lock them up and throw away the key, or let them do whatever they want. Where has common sense gone?
In Jefferson County Public Schools, it appears we’ve slipped to the “do nothing” end of the spectrum. As a teacher, but mostly as a parent of two kids in JCPS, I have become increasingly concerned about what appears to be a lack of meaningful consequences for misbehavior. That concern has been affirmed by several administrators who I’ve talked to, and now corroborated publicly by a whistleblower.
As a parent of a first-grader and kindergartener, I am livid. I will not stand for what’s being described in the WAVE 3 News article, what I’ve seen personally, or what others have stated, in my child’s school or classroom.
An anonymous school administrator told WAVE 3 News, “We’re not suspending children, and we’re keeping them in the classroom.” The administrator fears retaliation.
WAVE 3 News also talked to other school personnel off the record, who stated they are being told not to document certain bad behavior. Teachers have stated the same. The administrator said they are getting the phone call “saying don’t suspend.”
“Every single day, teachers are getting hit, bit, kicked, hurt,” he told WAVE 3 News. “Other students in the room are getting hit, kicked, bit, beat on. Students are not safe.”
JCPS has reduced suspensions significantly since 2017. The district touts restorative practices as one reason, but I honestly don’t know where it’s actually been implemented, at least properly.
So my concern as a teacher is the stress level of the job. Kids misbehave, aren’t removed from classrooms, severely disrupt classrooms, or sometimes are violent, yet are placed back in the classroom moments later. As a parent of a first-grader and kindergartener, I am livid. I will not stand for what’s being described in the WAVE 3 News article, what I’ve seen personally, or what others have stated, in my child’s school or classroom.
I’ve been talking to JCPS administrators, teachers, and students myself, contemplating writing my own story, and wondering if it would be worth the potential retaliation. For now, I’ll state I’ve talked to multiple administrators who corroborate what the whistleblower stated to WAVE 3, and much more. We have a problem.
From where this problem stems is a complex and intricate web ranging from trying to do right by children, to unintended consequences, to complete idiocy. Special education laws, racial equity initiatives, among others, have handcuffed school personnel. Removing a special education student from the classroom is near impossible, regardless of the behavior. Schools who suspend minorities at higher rates than whites are under a microscope, but not given the resources and tools needed to address issues of poverty or racial inequities, so the only answer is to just not suspend. That’s because to do restorative practices and countless other initiatives that could actually help, we’d have to spend astronomical amounts of money.
We all know class size helps, but to get classes to a manageable size, the district would need to double its teaching staff. That comes at a cost of more than $400 million. Hiring just 1,000 additional teachers would cost more than $60 million. Imagine the cost if we hired multiple mental health professionals per school, added multiple counselors per school, properly trained new school resource officers, and provided all the wrap-around services schools would need. We would double, if not triple the budget. Instead, we put more on the plate of already overworked and stressed teachers.
This school year I’ve watched kids curse at administrators, teachers, and others. I’ve watched kids walk around the building all day, to be rounded up and put into a classroom, only to leave minutes later and repeat. We are all familiar with the incidents at Iroquois High School. When will any of it matter?
It will matter when there are no teachers left in the classrooms. It will matter when parents demand change. Until then, it’s only going to get worse.
I want to do what’s best for children. Sometimes, what’s best for a few is worse for the many, and at the moment, we are sacrificing the education of most children for the sake of a small percentage of students. In my school, it’s about 8 percent, according to our referral data from last year. However, if you truly want to do right by the 8 percent, everyone must give more. At the moment, the full burden rests on teachers, and the full impact falls on the other 92 percent of children.
It’s a crime to abuse a teacher. KRS 161.190 prohibits the physical or verbal abuse of those employed by the Board of Education and prevents any action that severely disrupts the classroom. For the sake of most kids, who come to school to get a quality education, for the sake of their parents who want the best opportunities for their children, and for the sake of teachers who are fleeing the profession, enforce this law as we enforce those laws that make our jobs as teachers near impossible.
At the end of the day, we must provide the best opportunity for all children to learn. However, we must also acknowledge schools cannot cure societal ills alone, and that teachers and the vast majority of students coming to school to learn deserve a safe and respectful environment, free of violence and severe class disruptions.
Lastly, those from disadvantaged environments who need a quality education the most, yet are more likely to experience severe disruptions to their learning due to misbehavior, are the ones who suffer the most. We say we want to do right by them, yet we permit a small percentage to limit the education of the rest. At an average school, a student can lose up to 30 minutes per day of instruction due to misbehavior. From kindergarten through 12th grade, that’s more than a year of instructional time. For struggling schools, double that number. This is the real injustice.