Meting out discipline still a vexing issue for school board

by Jordan Green

The subject of school discipline, a seismic fault line whose underlying friction often relates to race, was broached by the chairman of the Guilford County School Board and one of its more vocal members at the board’s June 13 meeting.

The issues of how punishment is meted out and how police interact with students in educational settings resonate in a variety of ways for different constituencies, with some raising concerns that public schools serve as a funnel into the prison system, others complaining that chaotic learning environments violate the rights of well-behaved students and many debating whether discipline is applied fairly across racial and socio-economic lines.

Three community forums appear to be in the offing for Guilford County Schools. Chairman Alan Duncan pestered his fellow board members to let administrative planners know what dates they would be available for a forum about the controversial practice of carrying Tasers by school resource officers under the supervision of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department.

Officers currently carry Tasers ‘— electrical stun guns that proponents say minimize the chance of death for individuals subdued by law enforcement agents ‘—’ in 11 schools across the district, said sheriff’s department Capt. Jonathan Jacobs on June 14. Those include Eastern High School, Northeast High School, Northwest High School, Northwest Middle School, Southeast Middle School, the School Community Alternative Learning Environment center, Eastern Middle School, Northwest Middle School, Southeast Middle School, Allen Jay Middle School and Southwest Middle School. Jacobs said officers assigned to Ragsdale High School, Jamestown Middle School and Northeast Middle School will be equipped with Tasers by the beginning of the fall semester.

Duncan also suggested two related subjects for future community forums: tardiness and what he called ‘“responsible school discipline.’”

‘“It’s terribly important to the citizenry to have a disciplined school system balanced with being inclusive of all students,’” he said.

Board member Deena Hayes, whose district covers southeast Greensboro, said she agreed that the issues should be aired publicly, but quibbled with Duncan on his emphasis and wording.

‘“Parents show up to talk about how hostile school administration is to students,’” she said. ‘“Discipline, tardiness and other behaviors are a part of a hostile climate for students. I think maybe we need to talk about institutional racism.

‘“I’ve been sitting in on a lot of suspension hearings,’” Hayes continued. ‘“Often our school staff gets out of control before the students do. Often disrespect goes both ways. I think kids are being provoked on a daily basis.’”

Hayes said the school district should consider racism as a central cause of discipline problems rather than react to it as a symptom. In response Duncan alluded to the many masters the board members serve ‘— the county’s fractious and divided voters.

‘“We’ve all heard parents say we should have a zero-tolerance policy and throw ’em all out,’” he said. ‘“And a significant segment of parents are concerned about the fairness of how discipline is carried out. Both groups have something in common. They want their children to have a great learning experience. Even if we may come from different starting points, let’s try to work toward a better finishing point.’”

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