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A Harsh Lesson to Learn in First Grade

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A Harsh Lesson to Learn in First Grade

July 27, 2008 - 00:23
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On Friday, March 7, 2008, two entire classes of 1st grade students from Trinity Elementary School in New Rochelle, were forced to walk the perimeter of the playground area for a period of approximately 20 to 25 minutes during recess as punishment for “alleged” earlier behavior. The children were lead by two staff members.

We initially thought that this was an isolated incident but have noticed that there are deep-rooted problems in our school district culture that allow for behaviors, such as the one mentioned above. The excessive punishment of children is a great concern. Of greater concern is the environment that is permissive of it. This type of occurrence is symptomatic of systemic problems in our schools. We have no ill feelings for any of the staff members, rather for the system that allows this to happen and perpetuates itself time and time again. Would this have happened in a North End school? Has something similar happened to a child or children you know? How widespread is this poor judgment? Why isn’t there better communication with parents?

There were several issues that concerned us regarding this disciplinary response. First, the consequence was handed out without differentiation between well behaved children and children who behaved inappropriately. All students in the class were disciplined collectively in a military style manner. The staff failed to identify and focus on the children who require a higher level of supervision and correction. We find it hard to believe that every single child in the two first grade classes demonstrated inappropriate behavior without exception. If there was a single child in that group that was in their best behavior, they were also punished. The message sent to children was that there is no incentive to behave well if in the end they will be punished in the same manner as a child who behaves inappropriately. The fact all students were misbehaving (everybody is out of control), it is easier to conclude that the staff has difficulty or is overwhelmed with the management of the students.

Second, the severity of the response seems to have been excessive. Furthermore, we could argue that it was corporal punishment and as a result we would question its legality. This is compounded by the unpleasant weather we experienced on March 7th, 2008, under which this group of children was required to walk during the greater portion of their lunch recess. Some of the kids even got sick.

Third, none of the parents were notified initially. A letter was sent days after the event occurred. Another question we posed was, how are responsible parents able to address and correct inappropriate behavior by children if we are not included in the correction process? Considering the severity of the disciplinary response by the staff, we’re sure you would agree that parents should’ve been notified immediately.

There are 2 Comments

From another blog:

The problem with group punishment is that it violates the students' due process rights. Basic due process for student discipline requires that the student be told what they are accused of doing and the evidence against them described, and then they are given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. Goss v. Lopez. Manifestly, this is not and cannot be done in a whole school or whole class situation. Also, the student handbook is usually the "cookbook" for student discipline, and is an expression of school board policy in this area. I'm willing to bet that if you combed that, you would NOT find "group punishment" anywhere in it as a possible punishment, for excellent reasons.

[snip]

Why is group punishment so popular if it is so obviously illegal? I think it is probably because teachers have zero training in basic school law as part of a typical teacher preparation degree, and most administrators have one or two classes in it at most, as part of the degree program that leads to certification as a school administrator, which is usually taught by retired school administrators, not lawyers. Talk about triple hearsay!
It sounds like the school may have violated the students’ rights to due process. I’m no lawyer, but this situation sounds outrageous to me.

http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2007/06/bomb-threat-number-6.html

From a 1995 NYS case:

In addition, discipline may only be imposed upon a student when there is proof of misconduct in the record. Moreover, there must be a reasonable degree of certainty that the student charged engaged in or participated in the misconduct (Matter of Swain, 17 Ed Dept Rep 412; Matter of Schaefer, 14 id. 121; Matter of Post, 9 id. 107).

http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume34/d13352.htm

The punishment imposed on these first graders is wrong on many levels. What message is this sending to students? To quote from a comment on another group punishment blog post:

Nothing destroys discipline like badly managed punishment, especially when the punishment is seen by its targets as unjust.

http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2007/10/character-ed-emergency.html

Tex,

Thank you so much for your input. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to come.

One of our greatest challenges in creating this forum is presenting information and facts in a digestible manner. In short, we have an incredible amount of information to present, but can't throw it out all at once.

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