Discipline and balance

Opinion: Editorials

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Maintaining discipline in a high school is a balancing act. Keeping students in class even when they've begun to make some bad choices — tardies, disruptive behavior — is vital. Keeping classrooms focused and safe is also essential. Making sure all students understand that there are consequences to acting out is a fundamental life lesson.

Right now Oak Park and River Forest High School is recalibrating its approach to student discipline. And the effort is not without bumps and frustrations. Last week we reported that first-semester detentions, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions had all dropped by more than half from the previous year. This is the direct result of a school administration's effort to keep students in class while they ratchet up the consequences for not serving out the detentions being handed out.

As we said, a tough balance.

Principal Nathaniel Rouse was admirably candid in acknowledging that the change in approach was not universally popular with some faculty members. Where in the past tossing a disruptive student from class was likely to result in an in-school suspension that would keep the child out of the class for multiple days, now the student is back in class quickly but with other consequences applied. Rouse says the administration did an inadequate job preparing teachers for the change. Possible. Likely teachers also need some time to adjust to the change.

A student at the start of a descent into disruption and disconnection needs the opportunity, as well as the expectation, that they can turn their behavior and the knowledge that adults in the building will lay that responsibility on them. Students need to know that bad behavior is not the path to avoiding school but results in consequences that are layered onto schooling.

Challenges abound at OPRF. The opinion page in last week's student newspaper, Trapeze, offered a point/counterpoint between student journalists over which was the greater problem at the school: violent fighting in the hallways or rampant theft of electronics among students. No sugarcoating there.

One can trace the evolution of our high school, as it has become more diverse and more complex in recent decades, through its evolving approach to discipline. We're supportive of the current efforts, which are a mix of tough love – the semi-closed campus, the focus on getting to class on time, more security – and an expectation that education remains paramount.

Reader Comments

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

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OP Guy  

Posted: April 10th, 2013 10:42 PM

Parents use to be accountable for their child's actions back in the day. If the child was tardy or absent without good reason, the parent was fined. You could not believe how effective such policy was, but unfortunately political correctness got rid of that, and now all people can do is blame the schools and teachers for not "raising" kids properly, as if that's the school's job.

Kids need a safe place to learn!  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 8:16 AM

@OP Guy's comment 'Maybe parents should be involved too, like every time a student gets a detention, both the student and the parent have to provide service to the school.' I love that! I imagine then the parent will suddenly find a way to turn their child's behavior around.

OP Guy  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 1:29 PM

change dramatically. More than once I've seen kids be disruptive, disrespectful to teachers and violent in school, and they act like perfect angels, or victims of the system, when around their parents/parent. Something teachers can do is to discuss policy with the entire class before anything happens, and give students a clear choice that they can follow the rules or be disruptive and be accountable. This way the student has to acknowledge their own decision, and take responsibility.

OP Guy  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 1:23 PM

This is merely a numbers game. Rather than handing out serious punishment, which makes the school look bad, disruptive students are allowed to stay in class. That's not improvement, that's sweeping the problem under the rug. There needs to be behavioral change within the student, and school can only do so much. Maybe parents should be involved too, like every time a student gets a detention, both the student and the parent have to provide service to the school. I'd bet you'd see behavior cont.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 12:50 PM

Is the author deliberately not noting the obvious negative effect of getting the disruptive student back into the classroom he or she is disrupting as soon as possible? Seems like it could have a bad impact on classroom environment.

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