KUSD hosts forum on discipline

By Jake Lee Green
Kern Valley Sun

The Kernville Union School District Board of Trustees opened up a community forum on October 14 that was held to communicate directly with concerned parents in clearing up misconceptions about the way the board is seen in dealing with special needs children, unruly distractions in classrooms, and violent behavior from students. The board is under parameters that Superintendent Dr. Martinez says he wants parents to be aware of. Dr. Martinez, Special Education Director Marie Sampson, Principal of Wallace Elementary Karen Greenhaw, and Principal of Wallace Middle School Brian Polsten each took turns addressing the crowd of roughly 60 people. Mostly of which were parents who say they are concerned with the way their children are being affected by the behavior of other students who are not receiving proper disciplinary action.

Dr. Martinez began by addressing the crowd with gratitude for the sizeable attendance. He quickly moved on to say that the school district does not have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to disciplinary options and that certain criteria must be met before specific disciplines such as suspension and expulsion can be implemented. Legally, the district is bound to that criteria which is mandated by the California Department of Education, but, is often trickled down from a federal level.

Many parents of children affected by disruptive behavior from their peer students expressed frustration at the most recent KUSD Board of Trustees meeting on October 8. They appeared upset by not being informed on the statuses of the perpetuators of those behaviors. In this meeting Dr. Martinez brings up the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 which bars schools from distributing information on the disciplinary actions of other people’s children. “We can’t tell another parent what has happened to your kid,” Dr. Martinez puts bluntly.

Ms. Greenhaw took the stage next speaking on the definitions of intervention processes within Wallace Elementary. Greenhaw emphasizes that the approach that teachers are taking in the school is to teach first and foremost. “If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach them. If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach them. If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach them.” She goes on to say that when a student doesn’t know how to behave they must also be taught. To be taught how to react and express their feelings in a more appropriate and productive way. For students who have been expressing more extreme behaviors there is a targeted means of reaching out to those children by using paraprofessionals, student teacher meetings, and support from all of the staff.

In addition, there is classroom behavior monitoring where individual staff are offered support with suggestions and appropriate response techniques. A behavior response team consisting of Greenhaw, a behavioral specialist, and three paraprofessionals is being formed to offer specific behavioral support in less structured situations such as the student’s home or on campus. Check in and check out systems are another means in ‘restorative practices’ that are aimed at helping students reenter into the classroom with a better attitude and understanding of their effect on their peers. These practices are to prevent forcing students into at-risk situations where they are ejected from the district and ultimately prevented from earning an education.

Data sheets are now beginning to be documented within Wallace Elementary for the benefit of students, staff, and administration to target behavioral issues, which students are involved, and where they occur on campus. When the child must be evaluated and taken out of class staff personnel would refer to the data collected and steps would be taken to implement those ‘restorative practices.’ It is meant to help the administration implement specific behavioral corrections in a case by case basis. “The punishment needs to fit the crime,” said Greenhaw. Communication, Greenhaw states, is necessary to maintaining a direct line of information on their students’ progress or lack thereof.

Ms. Sampson stood to speak about the criteria that must be met before children could be considered special needs and emphasized that special education is a type of care and not a place that children are sent to. She was quick to note that it was inappropriate to publicly rally the names of certain students who had been namelessly referred to in the concerns of parents.
A few parents were curious as to how many times these ‘restorative practices’ must be implemented before deciding whether or not a student must be expelled or taken out of class and placed in an alternative location. The answer wasn’t cut and paste due to the nature of the practices that are administrated by staff. According to the districts approach on ‘punishment’, case by case scenarios require special attention to the needs of individual students and necessitates special care when implementing that disciplinary action.

Much of the concern from parents did vocalize itself amongst the crowd in regard to the education of their children in specific. However, the general question from much of the concerned parents was, ‘why must our children have to learn in an environment that necessitates giving attention to disruptive children.’ One gentleman made a very clear point about how he felt about this. “Why does it take one hour to teach a lesson that should be learned in 15 minutes?”

Of those concerns voiced were the more serious accusations of violence against peer students in classroom settings where parents were not being informed and disciplinary action was not being taken. Many parents were inquisitive on why their children were still left vulnerable in situations they felt like were physically threatening. Remarks on the at-home situations of children were brought into question as well with regards to unsafe, abusive, or negligent parental care towards the more unruly students in the school.