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.