Tag Archives: Kathleen Smith

School Discipline, Part III: Reframing Discipline in Virginia and Considerations for Making New Policy

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Reframing School Discipline

The Student Behavior and Administrative Response (SBAR) data collection was implemented in response to reframing school discipline from that of criminal, punishment, and exclusionary practices from 1991-2020 to that of restorative, intervention, and inclusionary practices in 2021 and beyond. The SBAR reports on behaviors that impede academic progress, behaviors related to school operations, relationship behaviors, behaviors that present a safety concern, behaviors that endanger self or others, and behaviors identified as persistently dangerous.

The SBAR records responses to discipline such as class removals, suspensions, expulsions with or without instructional services, and loss of privileges; behavioral interventions such as parents contacts, referrals, restorative practices; and instructional supports such as changes in placement, virtual programs, and support with and without face-to-face teacher contact.

The collection will always have inherent problems. Some data are clear: suspension or expulsion. Some data are not clear: support with or without face-to-face teacher contact. What if that contact was made by an administrator? Would removal for the last five minutes of class period be considered a removal? The reporting individual could inadvertently make the data very unreliable.

A cursory literature review demonstrated that “reframing discipline” occurred not only in Virginia, but throughout most educational institutions and juvenile justice organizations. Tight discipline policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s were replaced by less rigid or loose policies as early as 2010. After expulsions and suspensions catapulted, deterrent policies that used police, cameras, metal detectors, and locker searches were replaced by progressive policies that allow for a continuum of responses, prevention, intervention, supports, and consequences that foster positive behaviors.

Unintended Consequences of Both Tight and Loose Policies

Tight discipline policies do not allow for mitigation. The teacher uses minimal discretion for enforcement of rules. Breaking a rule, no matter the circumstance, is followed by a prescribed consequence. Loose discipline policies allow for more teacher and principal latitude over managing students. Loose discipline policies allow them to navigate the circumstance and use their professional judgment and expertise to decide on how much or how little  consequence should be received.

Our efforts to address disproportionality through looser policies that allow more educator discretion and at the same time provide better reporting and hold schools accountable may have inadvertently caused additional problems. Continue reading

Part II: School Discipline, Virginia Data and Virginia’s Disproportionality Concerns

This is the second of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present information and provide discussion questions for the audience to respond. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools within the context of the presented data.

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Findings from Virginia Data

Data on school discipline are abundant, but not always reliable. The reasons are many. Overall, data are reported by infraction to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and to the Office of Civil Rights by each school division. One kind of infraction in one school division may be deemed another kind of infraction by another division. For example, using a curse word while talking to a teacher could be considered disrespect or a threat, depending on who is entering the data in the system. Although the VDOE has attempted to clarify the language over time, it still may not be reliable. For this reason, the data used herein refer to only a few data points of what is reported to the Office of Civil Rights by divisions for each school every two years in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018. This data can be found here. Some data are highlighted below.

Congruency Matters in Learning and Discipline Data

Congruency means that percent of total of a discipline indicator should be similar or equal to the enrollment percent of total. In other words, in 2017-2018, if 22 percent of students are Black, then 22 percent of Black students should have been suspended. In 2017-2018, 51 percent of the total number of suspensions were of Black students. This means that the Black population’s results are not congruent to the actual percent of the Black students in the total population. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part I: Framing School Discipline and National Data

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

This is the first of a three-part series on school discipline. The authors present the information and then provide discussion questions. We hope the discussion will further an understanding of the complexity of school discipline and safe and orderly schools. Part I of this series frames school discipline and provides the latest national data from the Office of Civil Rights. Part II dives into Virginia data regarding suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests and context for Virginia’s disproportionality concerns. Part III discusses how discipline has been “reframed” in recent years.

School discipline is not a simple problem. There are some aspects that educators have a great deal of power to address and other aspects that are outside their ability to influence. Recent events have also likely caused school discipline to become more complex and difficult to address.

From an Administrator’s Experience

When Dr. Matthew Hurt was an assistant principal in a K-8 school 20 years ago, discipline was among his main duties. By working with teachers, students, parents, and staff, disciplinary infractions declined each year.

He learned early-on that suspending students was like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch. The practice gave students a vacation where likely no one was there to help them catch up on their work. As it provided no disincentive to stop negative behaviors, the administration focused on in-school suspension. Staff found this was a significantly better deterrent. With in-school suspensions (ISS), the school employed an individual who worked with the kids to make sure any missed instruction was mitigated. For smaller infractions, students would be assigned to ISS during their lunch and exploratory classes (PE, music, etc.) so they wouldn’t miss any core instruction. Kids hated missing the social time with their peers, and this provided great incentive to improve their behavior.

The second lesson Dr. Hurt learned is that the administration had to support teachers with discipline. Teachers realized that what they did in their classrooms was prized, and that they were supported for not tolerating any shenanigans while teaching. Their instructional time was extremely precious. The administration supported the in-class disciplinary measures that teachers implemented and told them to send kids to the office as soon as their behavior became untenable. Students realized quickly that once their teacher sent them out of the classroom, consequences were quickly and progressively meted out.

Like every other school, this school enrolled students who frequently needed discipline, and a lot of time was spent with those students. The administration’s philosophy was that if a student was misbehaving, there were usually factors that must be taken into consideration. Disciplinary consequences were consistent regardless of those factors, but they realized there may be some mitigating interventions that could be applied to improve future behaviors. Many of these students lived in chaotic and sometimes violent homes. Staff realized that they had to double their efforts to ensure that these students had stability during the school day and realized that teachers and administrators were there to support their efforts to be successful at school. The administration spent a lot of time working with parents to find out their perspective about their kid’s behavior. They also worked with outside agencies to better coordinate necessary services. The more successful school staff were at identifying student social/emotional needs and mitigating those, the more successful they were at mitigating their negative behaviors.
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Another Takeaway from the Special Grand Jury Report in the Circuit Court of Loudoun County

by Kathleen Smith

Earlier this month, the special grand jury’s findings in the Circuit Court of Loudoun County were released to the public. The special grand jury had been impaneled by Commonwealth’s Attorney General Jason Miyares to investigate accusations regarding Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) and its handling of a student disciplinary case. After reading the report, it is clear there was a significant lack of leadership and communication at LCPS.

According to its website, Loudoun County Public Schools employs nearly 13,000 people. That large number says a lot about the size of the communication problem evidenced in the report. In comparison, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is the largest sheriff’s office in Virginia and it employs about 800 people at six locations. The Loudoun County Social Services offices employ 2,227 people.

With an organization the size of LCPS, there are going to be barriers to communication. Those barriers exist between every building, every floor, every office, and every department. That is normal. So, what does it take to make communication work within an organization of that size?

Leadership matters. Bridging matters.

Consider that 83,000 students benefit from the services of Loudoun County Public Schools. In addition, realize that many of these same 83,000 students (and their families) may also need social services, court services, and law enforcement services at any given point in time or on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. When that happens, there needs to be communication between LCPS officials and the other services involved.

The report is very clear: that communication did not happen. Continue reading

Virginia Board of Education: Stay the Course

Standards and Curriculum Framework are Both Needed – Not One Without the Other

by Kathleen Smith

In November, the Board of Education put off the approval of the Virginia History and Social Science Standards again. The Board members seemed quite perplexed as they were asked to approve only the Standards without the Curriculum Framework –- or a “decoupled process” as the State Superintendent explained.  In February, the concerns over the much-disputed process and standards will be considered again.

On November 30, the Virginia Mercury published an article regarding the separation of the Virginia History Standards and the Curriculum Framework.  Three other articles have recently come to light as well.  On December 3, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an opinion column by Tom Shields entitled “Schools Have a Moral (and Legal) Obligation to Resist a ‘Divisive Concepts’ Ban.”  Children First – IRDA published a policy paper entitled “What Virginia’s Anti-Equity Executive Order 1 and Reports Mean for K-12 Schools & Students – A Guide for School Leaders.” Lastly, EducationWeek published “The Architects of the Standards Movement Say They Missed a Big Piece.”

These references provide some insight into the concerns the Board of Education expressed at the November meeting. The public and parents are interested in what should be taught or not be taught in schools related to divisive concepts, including equity. State Board members should stay the course and approve both the Standards and the Curriculum Framework without any “decoupling” of the two documents.

When you pick up any package of food, all ingredients are listed as required by code. This lets the consumer know what is in the food you are eating. The curriculum framework is the same as the ingredient listing on food packages. It is a transparent way of making sure folks know what they are eating, or in the case of the frameworks, know what is meant by the standard and what the teacher is expected to teach. Continue reading