When teachers return to the city's public schools next week, for the first time they will have the authority to suspend unruly students for as long as four days. They were given this new power under the Safe Schools Against Violence Act, which Gov. Pataki signed in July. We fear that administrators, teachers and parents will find this new power is at best a mixed blessing.
The get-tough-on-the-bad-kidscrowd is, no doubt, delighted. Some teachers will likewise welcome the ability to rid their classrooms of disruptive students. But the principals of the city's schools are less than thrilled. In typical Albany fashion, the legislature passed this unfunded bill without giving a thought to its practical implications. Principals and district superintends are scrambling to find classroom space to house the suspended students and teachers to supervise these children.
Unless the time is used productively, the four-day suspensions will do more harm than good. We wonder what will be achieved if the suspended student returns after four days of wasted time only to find that he or she is now four days behind in class work. This is a recipe for failure. And yet if there are no classrooms and no teachers for these students, what do the lawmakers think will happen?
We also question whether it makes sense to involve teachers so deeply in the discipline process. In the citys public school system, teachers have always had the option of sending a disruptive student to the principals or the deans office. The administrators are trained to handle a broad range of discipline problems. The Board of Education has a detailed policy for handling misbehavior with options that ranged from a simple warning to suspension, expulsion and even arrest.
There is also the possibility that the authority to suspend will be abused. Not all teachers are fair. Before real harm is done and young lives are irreparably damaged, the Board of Education must create strict standards for suspending students and teachers must be held accountable for their actions. Parents must be given the opportunity to question and challenge the decision to suspend.
Most important, teachers must be teachers, not the deans of discipline. We fail to see the value or the need for this change in policy. Let teachers teach. Let others do the disciplining.
Editorial: Bare bone heads
The state Legislature has passed what it calls a bare bones budget that does not increase funding for the citys public schools. So far, the governor has refused to sign off on the bipartisan compromise. Four months late and this is the best that Albany has to offer. If it is adopted, the budget will force the city to cut funding for performing arts, sports and other vitally important school activities.
This is a disaster, and the news gets worse. The budget gap for school construction is now approaching $3 billion. This means that Queens may not get urgently needed classroom space. Our schools are already bursting at the seams. The future looks bleak.
And so, a week before school opens, we are looking at the prospect of sending at least some Queens children to dilapidated, overcrowded schools where they will study from outdated textbooks. In many of these schools, there will be no music, no theater, no sports, no extras. When they move at all, the wheels of reform move much too slow.
As the new school year approaches, New York City is on the brink of a crisis. We cannot be proud of the quality of our schools. The children and their teachers deserve better, much better.
©2001 Community News Group
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