“We Have Failed Our Students Under the Guise of Grace”

by James A. Bacon

The breakdown of discipline in some of Virginia’s public schools is so stark that it has penetrated the ideological filters of the The Washington Post news staff. The lede to the WaPo’s article about last night’s Newport News School Board meeting sums up the picture nicely:

Dozens of teachers and parents unleashed fury, fear and frustration on the Newport News school board Tuesday evening, saying systemic problems throughout the district created the climate in which, police said, a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher earlier this month.

Emotions ran so high that in “something of a mass catharsis” citizens called for the superintendent to be fired.

Many said discipline at district schools had deteriorated, resulting in unsafe classrooms, and they noted that the shooting at Richneck Elementary School was the third in the district since fall 2021. Several teachers said they were not supported when facing violence in the classroom or even attacks by students. And speakers repeatedly charged that the district cared more about keeping its official discipline statistics low than properly handling students who act out.

What’s this? Deteriorating discipline? Teachers feeling unsupported by administrators when threatened or attacked by students? Administrators suppressing the violent reality by manipulating statistics? Where-o-where have readers heard that before? Oh, here on Bacon’s Rebellion. Over and over. now it’s not just us saying it. Now it’s The Washington Post.

Colleen Renthrope, a mother of two Newport News students, said her children are forced to attend schools where, in the words, of the Post, “there is no real discipline of students who misbehave.”

Said she: “I personally demand that the tears of all the students scared to go through the day in the system you are charged with protecting will haunt you until you make this right. We demand that our kids and teachers come home safe every day.”

Bacon’s Rebellion has been tracking the disintegration of classroom discipline after the implementation of “social-emotional learning” as a substitute for traditional disciplinary policies. The new approach emphasizes a forgiving, therapeutic approach to troublemakers in lieu of removing them from the classroom. The standard explanation for collapsing discipline blames the impact of school closings during the COVID pandemic. COVID undoubtedly contributed to the problem, but schools are well into their second year of reopening, and major disciplinary problems persist.

Parental outrage at the shooting of teacher Abigail Zwerner by a six-year-old sparked the outrage in Newport News, but criticism led to a broader attack on the school system’s disciplinary policies.

“Metal detectors in every building is [sic] a nice start, but the most effective solution is for staff and teachers to be listened to and supported when they report dangerous behaviors and threats,” said James Graves, president of the Newport News Education Association.

Several speakers said students who act out, disrespect teachers and get into fights suffer no consequences.

“I would like to see that consequences find their way back to Newport News schools,” said Djifa Lee, a second-grade teacher in the district. “We have failed our students under the guise of grace. This grace has turned into enabling.”

Nicole Cooke, a school librarian and districtwide teacher of the year in 2022, said teachers are not respected in Newport News schools. She felt disrespected by the superintendent. “We are not listened to. We feel as though we do not matter.”

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20 responses to ““We Have Failed Our Students Under the Guise of Grace””

  1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Emotions should have run high. Teachers are overwhelmed.

  2. “And speakers repeatedly charged that the district cared more about keeping its official discipline statistics low than properly handling students who act out.”

    I wonder if that might explain why the report of a student being in possession of a gun was not handled properly. Students should have been removed from the classroom and the student in question, his backpack and the room searched by law enforcement. It doesn’t sound like that happened.

    Was it kept low key to avoid becoming a black mark on the school?

  3. M. Purdy Avatar

    Good for the Wapo. But why does BR absolutely blast the Wapo nonstop for bias and manufacturing stories, but then use the same outlet as validation of its opinion?

    1. It’s good reporting when I agree with it.

    2. M. Purdy:
      “But why does BR absolutely blast the Wapo nonstop for bias and manufacturing stories, but then use the same outlet as validation of its opinion?”

      Lets see:

      If BR writers make statements or reports without independent siting sources, that can be criticized.

      If BR writers site conservative sources, that can be criticized.

      And if BR writers site sources owned and operated by liberals, that’s also a problem for you?


      Or maybe you just disagree and couldn’t think of any other criticism? Could that be it?

      1. M. Purdy Avatar

        So if the Wapo can’t be trusted, because it lacks independent verification (is there evidence for this?) or is run by liberals, but you still agree with them and cite them as support when they happen to agree with you, does it mean the Wapo is biased or you’re biased? I can guess what you are.

        1. Perhaps my previous comment was not clear. I was outlining how determined BR detractors are able to find fault with sources no matter what. I will attempt to edit it for greater clarity.

          The Washington Post employs roughly 2,500 people. I don’t think they are all biased, nor is every story biased. Besides, even a left leaning story may contain useful facts.

          Washington Post does lean left. Deal with it.


          1. M. Purdy Avatar

            Huh? Your post is a non sequitur. It’s BR that routinely finds fault with the WP. I’m not finding fault with the WP; I trust their reporting on the facts most of the time, even if their bent is to the left. Glad we cleared that up.

          2. Lefty665 Avatar

            “I trust their reporting on the facts most of the time”

            That is foolish. The Wash Post is often terrible at editorializing in its news stories, and getting worse rather than better.

            I grew up reading the Wash Post, and my mother worked there long ago. I also long ago realized that I could not take at face value anything they printed in areas where they had an institutional opinion. Those areas have broadened over the years.

            That said, I still start there every morning to see what the official party line is.

    3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      It would be nice to see columnist Jay Mathews weigh in on the issue of discipline. He used to have some good insights when I read the paper years ago.

  4. This all started during the 1971-72 school year when I was in 7th grade and attended Briarwood Elementary.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I agree. Nixon and the right side of the head began to rot.

    2. I’ve always timed the start of the steep decline to October 17, 1979, when the U.S. Department of Education was formed.


  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Maybe he lost the election for Hall Monitor and refuses to accept the results. Apparently discipline is breaking down in politics too.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yep. We used to say “Act like an adult”.

  6. Turbocohen Avatar

    Government replaced two functioning parents and removed God. Reap what you sow Dems. #FailedParents

    1. “and removed God.”

      Be careful what you wish for. If schools started teaching about God, it would be yet another way to indoctrinate leftist values.

      I believe religious instruction can be very beneficial for children growing up, but I do not support it within public schools.

      1. Turbocohen Avatar

        So, catholic and other parochial schools and home schools have these issues? How about more vouchers and less government run institutions?

        1. As mentioned in my previous comment, I don’t support religious instruction within public schools.

          I do support school choice and vouchers.

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