A Dangerous and Controversial Dilemma

handcuff boy_20940487By Nick McDaniels — I’ve blogged before about the conflicting interests of reducing suspension to combat the school-to-prison pipeline and school safety.

And I’m going to blog about it again likely until we make decisions that really matter, that show real courage and common sense. Here’s the problem now: In Baltimore City Schools, like a number of other school districts, intentional assault on a staff member no longer warrants an automatic suspension, meaning a student could intentionally assault a teacher and be sent immediately back to class (this is among a number of changes to the code of conduct).

If this seems unconscionable, it is because it is. Principals who try to take action to protect members of the school community are sometimes overridden by district level personnel who ask questions like, “was it the student’s only assault of the day?,” or “is this the student’s first infraction of this nature?” before determining whether to approve suspension or removal.

We must draw the line on behalf of our staff and students. Students who intentionally assault staff members need serious psychological attention, which urban school districts refuse to provide as evidenced by the underhiring of counselors, psychologists, and social workers. In the absence of intensive psychological interventions and treatment, staff and students are subjected to repeated acts of violence, and in the absence of suspension, staff and students are not ever given a break from such violence. Imagine the psychological and social toll on students, on staff.

Would this be tolerated in affluent communities? No way.

But in poor communities of color, district administrators deem it appropriate to subject students and staff to an unending cycle of violence and refuse to provide help for offending students all in the name of improving the statistical appearance of the district. I’m not an educational historian, but I can’t imagine many times in the last 50 years in this country where we would allow school districts to celebrate such classist and racist policies. But here we are, allowing the education of a vast majority to be completely undermined by a very needy, but unhelped few.

We must stand with parents and teachers, and students, those victims and those offenders, to ensure that we are providing everyone with a safe and healthy school experience, one that provides interventions for violent students, and one that shields peaceful students and staff from violence. For every student that assaults another person, we must demand mandatory counseling before re-admittance to class.

And to ensure this is possible and rehabilitative, we must cap case loads for counselors, psychologists, and social workers. This will force school district administrators to actually address issues of school violence by hitting them where they feel it the most, in their pocketbooks, forcing them to spend money on hiring people to work with children rather corporate partnerships and administrative overhead. We must stand firm on this on policy and legislative grounds, as parents, teachers, and voters. We have no choice but to refuse to allow school districts from ruining the opportunities of an entire generation through the perpetuation and encouragement of school violence.

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