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©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

COMBATING VIOLENCE IN THE SCHOOLS

Someone once said: "Order is Heaven's first law". Without decorum there can be no teaching in our classrooms.  Those in our courts and legal profession should know this better than the rest of us. Visit a courtroom in session.  When the judge enters the courtroom, what is the first order of business?  Silence! All rise!  The court officer announces the name of the judge and those in the courtroom remain standing until told to be seated! God forbid that you wear a hat in the courtroom.

 Even a police officer that enters the court with his uniform hat on is immediately admonished and frequently embarrassed as court officers and attorneys chuckle at the discomfort of the cop. Attorneys and court officials know how important the images of order and decorum are to judicial procedures.  That is why they give the judge a big gavel to bang on the bench when those in attendance engage in conversation or otherwise distract the proceedings. 

We, as a society value our court system. How much do we value our school system?  Don't we owe it to our children to have the same measure of order in our places of learning as we demand in our courts? 

We must apply the same tactics to restoring order to our schools that we have applied to our streets.
The thinking behind "Fixing Broken Windows" is applicable to our educational system. We must act to protect our most precious resource.

What ever happened to the suggestion that we require UNIFORMS for all public schools?  Why uniforms?  There are a lot good reasons.
First of all, by uniforms, are we talking about military uniforms with armbands? Do we evoke thoughts of Nazi uniforms, regimentation, and totalitarianism? Give me a break.
Visit a Catholic school and notice that all the children wear trousers and white shirt and tie or a simple jumper for the girls.  I attended both a parochial school as a child and also graduated from a public high school.  My wife and I raised three children who attended public schools.  As an experienced parent I have credentials that a childless teacher may not have.  I saw the pressures on a child who attends public school from the ground up.  I listened to the problems of my own children and also those of their fellow students. One problem that I found to be very important was the dress code.  Peer pressure among students is a factor that many do not appreciate.
Everything from colors, type of sneakers, jeans, jackets and personal appearance is vital to kids entering junior high school and high school.   A pimple on the face of a child is more important to that child than a report card.  Kids want to belong.  They desperately want to be accepted by their peers.  The social psychology that pervades the life of a young teen must be understood by our entire society, not just by school psychologists. It is time for sharing the information folks. 

Do you want to see how disorder can destroy schools? Go to some school districts that have allowed the growth of gangs to flourish. Notice how the gangs set the tone for the school. A gang wears certain "colors", wear certain types of clothing, tattoos, brands, or imprint their gang name, logo, or other identifying marks on their bodies. Some adopt types of hairstyles or communicate through the use of hand signals and GRAFFITI on walls, streets, school work and school property. 

The gang psychology that the leaders exercise is an amazing thing to watch.  These "natural leaders" use basic social psychology to recruit new "gangbangers".  The gangs exercise real "juice" or power.  Many enjoy the respect or fear that others exhibit around them.  Among the reasons why kids become gangbangers are identity, recognition, belonging, love, discipline, and money. If these reasons sound familiar, they should. They are all listed on the "Hierarchy of Needs" of Abraham H. Maslow.  Maslow's theory of motivation for human behavior should be required reading for all parents and teachers.  Can uniforms have an influence on the growth of gangs in our schools?  By eliminating gang colors, graffiti, and other indications of gangs on school grounds, can we help to restore order?  I am sure that scoffers will give their condescending put-downs to this idea. But, fixing broken windows also evoked similar responses from many in the "Intelligentsia".

That brings us to another aspect of school life. Has BULLYING become a way of life for our children?  The gangbangers terrorize their fellow students into submission.  The law of the jungle pervades the everyday life of children who no longer look to teachers, security personnel, or even law enforcement for protection.  The gang takes over the role of protector and guardian in the life of the gang member. Those outside the gang are just terrorized into silence and surrender. Years ago, there was always one or two schoolyard bullies that annoyed the kids.  Sooner or later, that bully would get his "clock cleaned" by some kid that was fed up with the nonsense. Today, we have a totally different society. The gangbangers are an organized band of bullies that have perfected bullying to a science.  Like all bullies, they only respect the use of force greater than their own. Bullying as a way of life in our schools must be crushed. It we do not rescue our kids from the terror of the gangs and bullying then we are just a bunch of cowards.

The enactment of legislation can put teeth into our efforts to restore order in our schools. Just as we have to forge a PARTNERSHIP between employers and law enforcement to deal with workplace violence, we must also forge the same PARTNERSHIP between the schools and the police. 

If you want to become a teacher in New York, what follows may interest you.  The State of New York has made it possible to survive in the classroom. The role of teacher in our society can again be restored with enforcement of the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Law (Project SAVE) that has been signed into law by Governor George E. Pataki.

Am I being too optimistic? Let me review a few of the salient parts of this new law.

A SCHOOL SAFETY PLAN

This law requires local schools and LAW ENFORCEMENT to develop and adopt district-wide school safety plans and building-level emergency response plans for crisis response and management items required include:

District-wide school safety teams and building-level emergency response teams;
Plans would include policies and procedures for responding to threats and acts of violence, safe evacuation and contacting LAW ENFORCEMENT and parents during a violent incident, detecting potentially violent persons, building security, annual school safety training for students and staff

Schools to develop such plans in CONJUNCTION with LAW ENFORCEMENT officials, where appropriate.

VIOLENT PUPIL

Defines a "violent pupil" as one who:

Commits an act of violence on a TEACHER, other school district EMPLOYEE or FELLOW STUDENT;
Possesses, displays or threatens to use a GUN, KNIFE, or other DANGEROUS WEAPON;
Damages or destroys the PERSONAL PROPERTY of a teacher or other school district employee;
Damages or destroys SCHOOL district PROPERTY

SUSPENDING AUTHORITY

Adds PRINCIPALS to those EMPOWERED TO SUSPEND pupils from school entirely, WITHOUT specific board delegation of that authority

ASSAULTS ON TEACHERS

Assaults on teachers or school personnel that results in an injury is increased from a misdemeanor to a CLASS D FELONY

ASSAULTS BY NON-STUDENTS

An assault on a student while on school grounds by a non-student is also raised to CLASS D FELONY

IMMUNITY FROM CIVIL LIABILITY


"Whistleblower" protection for those employees who report violent incidents. Protected from any civil liability

FINGERPRINTING AND CRIMINAL HISTORY BACKGROUND CHECKS

Requires prospective school district employees and applicants for teacher certification to be fingerprinted for a criminal history background check to be cleared for employment

CHILD ABUSE

Requires school employees to report allegations of such abuse to school authorities, PARENTS, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

Reports are MANDATORY. A written report must be prepared. Willful FAILURE to make the required report will be a CLASS A MISDEMEANOR.

A report made in "GOOD FAITH" the reporter is entitled to IMMUNITY FROM CIVIL LIABILITY

SILENT RESIGNATIONS

Ends the practice of "SILENT RESIGNATIONS" whereby school authorities allow a person to resign rather than disclosing ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE. Disciplinary actions are brought through the Education Department or filing a complaint with LAW ENFORCEMENT

If a SUPERINTENDENT permits an employee to resign under these circumstances, it will be a CLASS E FELONY.  In addition, the SUPERINTENDENT will be subject to a CIVIL PENALTY not to exceed $20,000.

Tim Field, "Bully in Sight", How to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying, printed in Great Britain, Wessex Press, Oxfordshire 1996  

George L. Kelling and Catherine M. Coles, "Fixing Broken Windows", Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, Simon & Schuster, New York 1996.

Copyright © 2001 Edward D. Reuss

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