June 26, 2012
Talk It Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline
This week we’re headed to Sacramento to launch Talk It Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline. Talk It Out strives to raise awareness about the use of harsh school discipline on a local and statewide scale, to personalize the discussion for people on all sides of the issues and to communicate in a positive way the alternatives to harsh practices.
We’ve spent the past few months speaking to Sacramento communities about their experiences of school discipline practices. Local students Lea and Spenser share their views on “Zero Tolerance” policies, which often punish any infraction regardless of accidental mistakes, the seriousness of the infraction, or extenuating circumstances.
Lea Luellen – 16 years old
It was not until my third year of High School that the Zero Tolerance Law was even brought to my attention. My peers and I took an immediate interest in this law. The law itself has been used inappropriately. It is actually hurting students instead of helping them. This law was originally created for one reason and is being used for a totally different reason today. Most peoples response to discovering the misuse of this law is along the lines of “so what” or “who cares”, as they choose not to want to know too much about the student on the receiving end of a Zero Tolerance penalty.
A student’s High School career is deeper than football games, the high school prom or finals. When I think of my high school career, I think of myself as an egg. Yes, a fragile, little egg. I think of High School as an old woven basket; and while that basket is a risky place for an egg, there are no alternate options for this egg but to be carried in it. Like that egg in its unstable basket, if I move just a little bit out of place, I can fall out of the “old basket” and crack. High School students are not to misbehave, misstep or move out of their place for fear of ending up in permanent damage.
Every High School student knows that if you are suspended for as little as two days, your grades can drop tremendously. Now you’re thinking, as many others do, “big deal, do your makeup work”. It’s not that simple. When a student is suspended at my school, as a penalty, they are not granted makeup work or the work they missed. If they miss a hundred point test, well, that is a “big deal.” Big enough to determine a pass or fail in a class, depending on the class and on the student. Certain classes are required to graduate high school. Yes, rules are essential to a successful scholastic society, but if those policies are no longer beneficial and, furthermore, are going as far as hurting students, the rules are simply unacceptable and they must be changed. There are alternatives to these policies and our community has the answer.
Spenser Bradley – 17 years old
Now that I have graduated High School, I find myself looking back and reflecting on my time there and on the school itself. I was never labeled as a “problem child.” Never sent to the office, never kicked out of the classroom. I was a good student and my grades reflected that. Naturally, the Zero Tolerance law didn’t seem to affect me, although I was fairly aware of it.
While I was able to view my High School from one end of the academic spectrum, I had many friends and acquaintances that were on the other end. One friend in particular, didn’t have a good reputation with the faculty at my school. He was labeled as a “bad student” and the teachers treated him like the plague. I recall one instance where he was suspended for speaking out of turn in the classroom. That was his third time being suspended, all for MINOR infractions. I understand that he shouldn’t have been speaking out of turn, but to be suspended for that, literally kicked out of school and told he was not allowed to learn, it was ludicrous. That suspension demonstrated laziness on the teacher’s part. Suspending him was the “easy” thing to do. And it showed irresponsibility on the school’s part as they allowed the disciplinary action to take effect, without question or judicial review. As result, he missed a full week’s worth of assignments and consequently his grades dropped dramatically. Then when he was not allowed to make up any of the assignments, his grades continued to suffer. He was in very serious danger of not graduating.
I remember having a conversation with him about this issue, and he told me, “since the teachers and principals don’t care about me, why should I care.” That touched me, and I realized he wasn’t the only one that was going through this. The schools have lost their mission. They seem to care less and less about the students, while being more and more concerned about money, statistics and politics. We must ask ourselves what is happening to make educators and administrators kneel to such off mission standards? Schools should ALWAYS be about uplifting their students while pushing them to achieve academic and personal greatness. The blanket-law that is Zero Tolerance is pure laziness, and a new law favoring the students should be revised and considered.
It is for that reason that I am participating in Talk It Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline, and why I urge you to learn more about these issues by attending our event at The Guild Theater on June 30th.
We’ll be presenting ZERO, an original play based on the stories of teachers, administrators, parents, and teachers, this Sunday, June 30th at The Guild Theater, 2828 35th Street Sacramento, CA 95817. Get more information and reserve a seat.