Gov. Northam Signs Disciplinary Reform Bills

Earlier this month Governor Northam signed bills that cap suspensions of children in pre-K through 3rd grade at three days, and reduces the maximum long-term suspensions from 364 to 45 days.   These reforms are intended to address the racial disparity in suspension rates identified by the U.S. Department of Education, and replace exclusionary discipline with opportunities for reflection and making amends.

As the linked articles and studies below show, however, the practical outcome of such measures has been a disaster wherever they have been tried.   School violence has increased dramatically, teachers no longer feel safe, and administrators are punishing teachers  who complain.  Students who are genuinely there to learn are suffering continued classroom disruptions.   As a community we must come together and find effective solutions to the school discipline problem.


Virginia Beach schools see a drop in suspensions. But teachers feel less safe:

Dozens of teachers terrorized by out-of-control students flee school district:

Harrisburg teachers appeal to district for help with in-classroom behavioral issues:

Chaos after ‘White Privilege’ Theory Influences Discipline Rules:

Obama-Era Initiative Wrong for Students and Teachers, Wrong on the Law:



A Theory of School Violence

Looking for answers after yet another school shooting, I came across an old article by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Blink,
 The Tipping Point, and other popular books on social psychology.  In “Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On,” published in The New Yorker in 2015, Gladwell offered an intriguing theory for the accelerating rate of mass murder in schools since Columbine. Gladwell drew on the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, who explained the related phenomenon of riots in the following way:

“…A riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them… Riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice… and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was….”
In this view, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, perpetrators of the Columbine massacre, threw the first rock through the window (the first, at least, in the age of the new media).  That riot has now spread, as social acceptance of unspeakable violence has ensnared the troubled young men with the lowest thresholds.  Can this explain, at some level, the horrific events of the past week?  
Read the original article here:

Students, parents must be accountable for discipline problems

The following article by Paul Day appeared in the Virginian-Pilot on October 29, 2017.


I APPRECIATE The Pilot exposing the student discipline problems in Virginia Beach schools. As a retired police officer and now a substitute teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, I have witnessed firsthand the discipline problems in our schools.

I have seen students curse out teachers and threaten them with physical harm without any ramifications.

Technology can be a useful tool, but the use of cell phones and computers during class time has become a big problem. Students text each other during class, watch movies and more, yet teachers feel powerless to enforce discipline.

As The Pilot’s story said, teachers are fearful. They are fearful of reprisal if they speak out against the administration because they have been told to reduce the number of student referrals.

A recent teacher survey conducted by the Virginia Beach school division indicated that nearly one-third of students in Virginia Beach middle and high schools do not know the consequences of misbehavior. The survey also found that one-third of middle and high students do not respect their teachers. If boundaries are not set and consequences not given for breaking the rules, discipline problems will continue to worsen.

Teachers have an increased workload due to larger class sizes. They are required to take more professional learning courses, and they have testing requirements that can be overwhelming. Recently, teachers were required to complete cultural awareness training, which is part of the administration’s effort to reduce suspensions of minority students.

“Restorative justice” is the term used for the new discipline procedures being used in Virginia Beach schools and in other school systems across the country. It focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. Teachers become counselors, along with all the other tasks they have been assigned. It’s amazing that teachers have time to actually teach lessons, grade papers and assist students with their educational needs.

On Nov. 13, 2015, the Virginia Department of Education issued a directive for schools to implement different strategies for student discipline. These strategies include PBIS (Positive-Behavioral Intervention and Supports). This directive states that exclusionary discipline practices (punishment and suspensions) have a negative impact on the learning environment.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Virginia Beach School Board member Trenace Riggs’ opinion that teachers need more training in developing relationships. I would counter that not providing punishments to unruly students has a very negative effect on the ability of teachers to teach effectively and for well-behaved students to learn. I also disagree with Superintendent Aaron Spence’s statement that “the discipline process should not be about punishment.” There must be consequences for misbehavior when students break the rules.

It is not the role of government to counsel students and teach them how to behave. That is the role of the parent. If the parent is notified of a student discipline problem and the behavior does not change, then ultimately the parent is the one responsible for the student’s actions, not the government. It is the role of the government to provide a safe learning environment for all students and to enforce the rules set forth by the School Board.

These problems are only getting worse because local officials are not addressing them and are not holding students and parents accountable. Parents need to speak out and get informed about what is happening in our schools and demand that discipline be enforced.

I encourage Pilot readers to write to the Virginia Beach School Board and demand that its members come up with a solution to these concerns shared by teachers. Student discipline and safety should be a priority.

VB SPARK Education Association, a new organization, allows the voices of parents, teachers, staff, students and community members to be heard on issues that affect the city’s students. Addressing student discipline problems in our schools is at the top of SPARK’s agenda.