Anarchy Visits Another School

Albemarle High School. Photo credit: Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

Teachers don’t feel safe in Albemarle High School, reports The Daily Progress. Within one recent week, a student punched a teacher in the face so hard he (or she) required medical treatment, while another student issued threats against teachers and classmates via social media and email. The newspaper reports other incidents such as a student slapping a language teacher in the face, a student throwing a chair at a teacher, and a student throwing an uncapped water bottle across the room.

“Students are roaming halls unchecked,” a teacher told The Daily Progress in an email. “Students are regularly cursing teachers out with NO repercussions. Consequences are inconsistently applied, if applied at all.”

“I want to assure you that we take the safety and security of our students and staff seriously, and such incidents will not be tolerated in our school,” Principal Darah Bonham communicated to parents.

Perhaps Bonham is serious about “not tolerating” violence. But how did the situation deteriorate to the present condition?

The reports of anarchy at Albemarle High follow a similar situation that sparked a teacher walkout last fall at Charlottesville High School. After a spate of incidents there, a new principal was put in charge and violence has died down, the newspaper says.

Two years after school closings during the COVID epidemic, the adults in some schools still struggle to regain control over the classrooms. At some point, you can’t blame it on COVID anymore. At some point, you’ve got to examine the radical overhaul of school disciplinary policies — ditching traditional disciplinary methods in favor of therapeutic counseling and reconciliation — amid the general collapse of academic and behavior standards. The deterioration varies from school to district, depending largely on how infected by “progressive” ideas school and district leaders are. But at some point, state education authorities need to step in.

The Youngkin administration has done some good things: taking an honest and bracing view of the erosion of academic performance, overhauling state Standards of Learning criteria, and putting actionable data about students’ performance in the hands of parents, teachers, principals and school officials. The reluctance to acknowledge the breakdown in classroom discipline, however, has been a major disappointment. If there’s one thing resembling a magic bullet for improving performance, it would be banning cell phones from classrooms. Overhauling “anti-racist” disciplinary policies that supposedly are biased against minority kids would be more protracted, but I see no sign that the administration has made even a modest move in that direction.

As for the Democratic legislators, rest assured that they would bitterly contest even a partial resurrection of traditional disciplinary methods as racist.

The refusal to confront the disciplinary issue will have several foreseeable consequences. Teachers will flee schools where they feel unsafe and teaching conditions are intolerable — in some cases they will abandon the profession entirely, no matter how much money the state funnels into pay raises. Classrooms will continue to be disrupted, learning will suffer, and academic achievement will struggle to reverse the COVID-era losses. The deleterious consequences will not be spread evenly. Minorities, the putative beneficiaries of anti-racist disciplinary policies, will suffer the most as ne’er-do-wells receive clemency and the good kids struggle through a dysfunctional environment.

Local newspapers like The Daily Progress report disciplinary breakdowns when they become severe enough. But no one seems to put 2 + 2 +2 + 2 together to get at the “root causes” of what is a systemic problem around the state. The “root causes” are not poverty, as the social justice warriors repeat endlessly. The root causes are a failure of adults to assert control.

Anarchy is not a recipe for learning, and it’s not a formula for social justice. Time to get real, people!