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COMMENTARY: Clark County School District’s policy on discipline sends the wrong message

Clark County’s new school superintendent, Jesus Jara, is sending the wrong message. He’s highlighting the number of minority students who are failing, being suspended or expelled and the need to decrease those numbers. While that’s the message being sent, the message being received is: Don’t fail minority students, don’t suspend them and don’t expel them.

The message that should be sent is: “We take education seriously. We want our students to succeed in a safe orderly environment. If you come to our schools and disrupt education or place other students’ safety in peril, you are not welcome.”

These issues are not simple or easily resolved. Many students are coming into our schools with a host of very serious issues that the state should be willing to address because their parents can’t. With class sizes among the nation’s largest, Clark County teachers don’t have any time to develop relationships that could help our troubled students adapt and be more successful. Counselors in the school district have a case load of 500-600 students. They clearly can’t reach all those who come in needing assistance or those who experience trauma during the school year.

Relationships matter. These kids need help.

Having said that, no matter what issues students are facing, they need to know their rights end where other students’ rights to learn in a safe environment begins. They need to know that if you refuse to follow school rules, distract others from learning, disrupt the learning environment or place others in physical jeopardy, you are not welcome.

There are some students in the district acting up in the hallways who won’t respond to teachers or administrators who direct them to “move along” or to come with them to the office. These bad actors believe they don’t have to comply with school rules. When disrupting a class, they completely ignore teachers’ directions or even swear at teachers.

While encouraging this behavior is not the intent of the superintendent’s message, the message received by the schools is to accept unacceptable behavior. In fact, the state’s evaluation system actually punishes schools for trying to maintain a safe, conducive learning environment by downgrading a school’s “star” ranking when a threat is removed.

Adding to the problem is the state’s push for increased graduation rates. Students know that it’s almost impossible for teachers to fail non-proficient students. Passing failing students just sends the wrong message. Keeping bad actors in school who disrupt classes, won’t follow directions or place other students in danger is just bad policy.

We should take education seriously. We should place our students in safe, orderly environments where they can be successful. There should be consequences for bad behaviors, for not doing work and for students who regularly cause problems. They should not be welcome.

When I was growing up, that was called “tough love.” We cared for our kids but also held them responsible for their conduct. Clearly, some bad actors need assistance and they should get it. But that can’t come at the expense of everything else. Surrendering does these students little good academically, nor does it help them socially. Simply stated, we need to expect more of our students to get more. If we accept less, we get less.

Bill Hanlon, former director of the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, is president of Mathematical Systems Inc.

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