Every year the NYC Department of Education issues a booklet delineating the school disciplinary code. Every student and teacher gets one.
In it, there are separate sections for K-5 and 6-8, each with four categories of offense and consequence ranging from mild disruption to bringing a gun to school. The former might earn a phone call home, the latter risks expulsion.
The idea of distributing the code is to show students that their actions have consequences. This works for kids who really don’t need to read the disciplinary code to understand that they need to behave responsibly.
It doesn’t apply to the rest of the school population, especially those students who are the most disruptive.
In our 8th grade special education class there are two students who are increasingly problematic.
R is hyperactive and, on good days, just runs around the room refusing to do any work.
L is a very bright boy with a VERY large chip on his shoulder. He is angry, contemptuous, and also refuses to do any work.
These two boys are like this in every class. They’ve always been difficult to motivate, but this year is worse than ever.
R has started making loud, animal like vocalizations while L has become a major bully, threatening violence at the tiniest perceived slight.
The disciplinary code says that when a student is disruptive to the point of interfering with the safe and productive conduct of the class, the student can be removed for the remainder of that period at the teacher’s discretion.
Sounds reasonable, right? So far, so good.
But a student can only be removed four times in a school year.
For the vast majority of students that is more than sufficient. 98% or more of our students are never removed from class for disciplinary reasons.
Then there are kids like L and R.
We make a point of not removing L unless he actually hits someone. R also has to behave in an extreme manner to be removed. Even so, both maxed-out their removals by the end of the first quarter.
Now, in order for them to be removed they have to be given a principal’s or superintendent’s suspension. That means at least a week in our detention room or relocation to a ‘suspension school.’
So when L got up in the middle of his first period class today, opened a bag of cookies and started throwing them around the room, there was nothing the teacher could do about it.
And two periods later, when L and R were on the opposite sides of the room throwing wads of paper, pencils and, finally, textbooks at each other, there was nothing I could do.
In fact, R made a point of telling me he knew he couldn’t be removed unless he did something extremely dangerous (like a three-pound textbook flying across the room isn’t extremely dangerous).
“I can do anything I want and you can’t do anything about it,” R told me. “I’ve already been removed four times and you can’t get me out of here.”
Now somebody has to get pretty seriously hurt for any of L or R’s actions to have consequences.
They’ve learned they’ve gotten a license to disrupt the learning of every other student in their class as much as they want.
And that may be the only thing they learn at school this year.