Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More American school idiocy in the name of "zero tolerance"

The bureaucratic creeps behind this must be hardly human. They clearly hate kids

Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school. “It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far. But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases? “Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students. “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.” The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal — but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions. “We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, “I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.”

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses. “The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer...

“Something has to change,” said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district’s reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy. Ms. Herbert, who said her son was a straight-A student, has since been home-schooling him instead of sending him to the reform school.

The Christina school district attracted similar controversy in 2007 when it expelled a seventh-grade girl who had used a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project.

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach. “There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

For Zachary, it is not school violence that has left him reluctant to return to classes. “I just think the other kids may tease me for being in trouble,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I think the rules are what is wrong, not me.”


Britain 'embarrassed' by academic excellence, says head

A leading private school is re-introducing scholarships for the brightest students amid claims Britain is “embarrassed” by academic excellence. The move – by Bristol Grammar School – comes despite the fact that free and subsidised places for top students can be claimed by children from middle-class backgrounds.

Many schools have scrapped scholarships in recent years under pressure from the Charity Commission in favour of means-tested bursaries targeted at students from the poorest homes. It follows the introduction of new rules forcing fee-paying schools to prove they provide “public benefit” to hang on to £100m a year in tax breaks.

But Bristol Grammar, which charges more than £10,000, said the trend risked leading to a decline in standards. Rod MacKinnon, the school’s headmaster, said: “We live in a society in which we are almost embarrassed to celebrate excellence, which is a big mistake. We seem to constantly emphasise egalitarianism over the traditional values of scholarship. “Excellence is something that we should strive for and ensure children aspire to achieve. Although we will have bursaries as well, we are signalling, with these awards, the value we base on rewarding and celebrating academic excellence.”

Traditionally, money from fees, investments and endowments has been invested in academic, sporting or musical scholarships - giving cut-price places to the most able pupils, regardless of parental income. But they have gone out of fashion in recent years in favour of bursaries, which are reserved for pupils from families unable to pay fees. The Charity Commission has already made an appeal to schools to increase the size of bursary funds to pass a new public benefit “test”, which was introduced under Labour’s Charities Act 2006. Two out of five schools investigated earlier this year as part of a trial programme failed the test because they did not offer enough free places to the most deprived children.

A report last year from accountancy firm Howarth Clark Whitehill found more cash is now spent on means-tested bursaries than scholarships. A survey of schools suggested that around £800m was spent on fee assistance, with just over half on bursaries.

Mr MacKinnon said: “I suspect that this is unique, it is certainly against the trend we have seen in recent years. It is common for schools to be phasing out scholarships because of the pressure from the Charity Commission and also because of the laudable attempt to broaden access to this country’s great schools. “I support that – we are not reducing our bursaries – but I think you have got to do both. We need to acknowledge and reward the most able because they can have a significant impact on the school community.”

At Bristol, scholarships worth £2,500-a-year each will be awarded to 15 students a year from September 2010. Thirteen will reward academic excellence and two more will recognise pupils with outstanding ability in sport and the performing arts. The awards will be funded by the Pople Charitable Trust, established by Don Pople who was a pupil at the school in the 1930s and 40s


Another Australian blackboard jungle

A TEACHER was attacked at school by a nine-year-old pupil who kicked her, threw rocks in her face and dragged her by the hair to the staffroom floor. Recalling the incidents yesterday in evidence to the District Court, Margaretta Slingsby said the boy threatened her: ''I'm going to get you, Slingsby slut.''

Ms Slingsby, 58, is suing the Department of Education and Training for negligence over the attack on May 30, 2005, which she says left her with post-traumatic stress and unable to return to her job. She had been teaching Italian at Lismore Heights Public School. Her barrister, Andrew Lidden, SC, said the school had more than its share of unruly children. While the pupil involved - known for legal reasons as B - had a history of ''at times quite violent misbehaviour'', the school had no plans in place to manage his extreme behavioural problems, Mr Lidden said.

The principal at the time, Trevor Pryor, had informed staff that B was coming to the school ''for a new start'' but said he had no records from the boy's previous school, Ms Slingsby told the court. She had taken time off work in March 2005 after B verbally abused her in the playground, an incident she reported to the principal. Two months later, she saw B chasing a girl into the library, screaming, ''You f---ing slut, I'm going to get you.''

When she and the librarian restrained him, the boy kicked them both and punched the librarian. He was taken away by the principal but returned and again attacked Ms Slingsby. ''He came up behind me and tried to push me down the stairs,'' she said. ''He grabbed me by the hair and was dragging me. I could feel my hair being ripped out of my scalp.'' The boy punched a female staff member who tried to intervene and threw rocks and dirt in Ms Slingsby's face.

Later, she said, she was sitting in the staffroom when B ''came tearing in'' with the principal in pursuit. The boy ''grabbed me by the hair and he threw me down on the ground''.

In a statement of claim filed to the court, Ms Slingsby alleges the department was negligent in failing to determine that the boy had a history of verbal and physical violence, and enrolled him when it was not safe for teachers or other students. It breached its duty of care by failing to remove B from the school or notify police after she was first assaulted, she claims.


1 comment:

Robert said...

For Zachary Christie who is being home schooled while suspended from government school, it would be ironic if he discovered he loved homeschooling far better than government schooling, and just never went back. Just keep homeschooling him and spare him the insanity.