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.