Cause and Effect

In December 2015, the School Superintendent’s Association published a column on school discipline, touting reforms intended to reduce suspensions and expulsions by adopting alternative approaches.

“Suspensions and expulsions often disengage and disconnect students from school, feed students into the juvenile system and criminalize children at increasingly younger ages: instigating a Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Harsh and punitive policies, including zero tolerance and the overuse of suspension and expulsion, can devastate the lives of children. We are committed to educational equity and reform to ensure the highest quality education for all students.


“In 2013 and 2014, AASA and The Children’s Defense Fund entered a partnership to explore alternative school district practices and system wide solutions for school leaders to bring back to their districts. This initiative was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies….”

One of the school districts supported by this initiative has been Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to November 21, 2017, and we learn from a New York Post article that “Dozens of teachers terrorized by out-of-control students flee school district.”

“A group of Pennsylvania teachers is sharing horror stories of getting beaten up by pupils as young as 6 — and begging their school district for help.  

“I have been kicked, punched, hit, scratched. I’ve had a student physically restraining me in front of my other students… And many of the personal things that I have bought for my classroom have been broken or destroyed,” first-grade teacher Amanda Sheaffer told the Harrisburg school board at its meeting Monday, according to the news website PennLive.  

“Many minutes are spent each day dealing with violence that is happening in the classroom,” Sheaffer said. “How am I supposed to have a safe, nurturing learning environment when this behavior happens?”  

“Sheaffer was one of about a half-dozen elementary school teachers and several parents who implored the board for help in dealing with increasingly violent and troubled kids.

“We aren’t complaining. We are here begging for help so that we can help those students,” said Harrisburg Education Association president Jody Barksdale.

“Barksdale represents some of the teachers asking for help and brought similar concerns to the board in January, according to PennLive.

“At least 45 teachers resigned between July and October because of kids terrorizing their classrooms, Barksdale claimed, according to Fox 43.

“Teachers and students are being hit, kicked, slapped, scratched, cussed at … and observing other students flip over tables, desks and chairs,” she said. “Teachers have had to take the rest of their class into the hallway to protect them during these outbursts. Not much has changed since last January.”

Indeed, these include schools (Harrisburg, PA) in which the disciplinary reforms had been instituted only a few years ago.  It is clear that the students have learned something:  they have learned that there are no meaningful consequences for misbehavior at these schools.  It is not yet clear whether the administrators have learned anything.

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