Monday, February 2, 2009

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has completed her public appeal for a new disciplinary policy and will submit the final plan to city officials by the end of the month.

Mrs. Rhee wants to reduce the number of off-site suspensions and safely keep unruly students at school.

“We don´t want to set up a system where kids who are having challenges with behavior will be out of school and out of the classroom for extended periods of time,” she said last week at the Sousa Middle School in Southeast. “We also need to make sure that we are respecting the classroom environments that exist and respecting the learning time of students who can behave appropriately.”

The community forum at Sousa was the third and final one this month for Mrs. Rhee on the topic. Feedback will be incorporated into the final plan, which will be sent to the D.C. Council at the end of the month for a vote.

Chad Ferguson, the school system’s deputy chief of youth engagement, said the current policy is too focused on removing students from the classroom and not focused enough on guidance. He said the revised policy will take a more instructional approach to managing behavior.

In addition to disciplinary measures such as in-school detention or contacting a parent, the revised plan also calls for anger-management training and group counseling.

The proposed changes divide student behavior into five tiers, each with a specific set of possible consequences, as opposed to the existing two-tier policy.

The revised Tier I includes “behaviors that are disruptive in the academic environment but do not harm others,” while Tier V includes “behaviors that are illegal, cause substantial harm to self or other, or cause major disruption to the school environment.”

Consequences for Tier I infractions could include verbal reprimand, temporary removal from the classroom and contacting a parent. Tier V infraction could result in long-term suspension or expulsion.

Mrs. Rhee told the roughly 70 residents at the forum last week that the changes are intended to create a clearer policy that will be enforced consistently and to maximize the time students spend in the classroom.

“You can lay out the prettiest disciplinary procedure that you want, but unless it’s implemented with fidelity, you´re going to continue to have a problem,” she said. ”

Steve Aupperle, a first-grade teacher at Truesdale Education Campus in Northwest, called the proposal “a really big step in the right direction.”

Still, some teachers and parents think that the five-tier system needed further adjustment.

“It’s not tailored per [age] level,” said a mother of elementary and middle-school students who asked not to be identified. “There’s a disconnect there.”

And a former teacher said a kindergartner out of uniform should be handled in a much different way than a 16-year-old out of uniform.

The District’s teachers union has generally supported the proposed changes as a result of school violence, which it says, is not deterred by out-of-school suspensions.

However, Mrs. Rhee faces a larger showdown with the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. She faces contract negotiations that will essentially focus on tenure and teacher accountability based on student performance.

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