There’s growing research about school discipline.
For one judge it all boils down to a single test.
“The ‘my child test’”
That’s Judge Steven Teske. He’s the chief judge for the juvenile court in Clayton County, Georgia.
This week he’s talking with leaders here at the United Way of Greater Houston.
“If your son or daughter got into a school fight, under zero tolerance in many situations even if they’re the victim — they were not the aggressor but protecting themselves — they’re going to get suspended, and how do you feel about that? And that’s what this is about. This is about we need to be more careful about who we slap the handcuffs on. Would you do that at home to your child?”
Besides the “my child test,” the judge has developed a different way of dealing with students who misbehave.
It’s called a System of Care.
It means not arresting or automatically suspending every kid who acts out.
Teske says it’s not that there are no consequences.
“The real issue is what that consequence should be. We need to be more mindful that if we respond in an overly punishing way that traumatizes a kid that, you know, we are going to make them worse.”
Teske says it’s also important to find out why a student acts out again and again.
One school district here is going to start asking that question more often.
The Spring Branch Independent School District is working with Judge Teske to create a pilot program.
Superintendent Duncan Klussmann says it’s a different, more caring approach to school discipline.
He says if it works, the signs of success will be clear.
Religious leaders, educators, law enforcement and mental health professionals all joined a call to action on school discipline at United Way this week.
“Less kids being suspended, more kids in school, less classroom disruptions, more kids learning, because remember when one kid is disrupting the classroom, they’re disrupting it for others. But as you decrease the number of situations that occur, then you improve the situation for everyone.”
The United Way of Greater Houston will also help develop the pilot program. Anna Babin is with the United Way.
“When did making adults mad become a crime? And it’s really about dealing with the behavior problems versus criminalizing behavior problems.”
One student in Spring Branch, Marcos Hernandez III, says he sees what happens when discipline gets extreme.
“A child misbehaves. The teacher is aggravated with the child, due to personal issues. She responds negative towards the child, the child responds even in a more negative way. It’s just like bad becomes worse.”
Hernandez has a suggestion. Take a breather, break down the situation and figure out what’s really going on.