July 28, 2019, Inforum, Fargo (ND) Moorhead (MN): How did we get here? Why student discipline in local public schools is the way it is https://www.inforum.com/4042583-How-did-we-get-here-Why-student-discipline-in-local-public-schools-is-the-way-it-is How schools address behavior issues has shifted over the last 30 years due to changes in national policy, research and awareness. FARGO — … Today, school discipline is less black and white. Discipline ranges widely by school and can be more holistic — ranging from meditation to restorative justice — or more authoritarian, including suspensions and direct interventions, depending on the school. The Fargo School District tries to be consistent in discipline practices across schools, though such practices can vary depending on the situation, according to Superintendent Rupak Gandhi. … With behavior issues on the rise, many are calling for changes in discipline strategies. Not just a Fargo-area issue Behavior issues and how to deal with them are not just a Fargo-area problem, Fargo School Board President Robin Nelson said. It's a national problem. Some Fargo-area parents and teachers say the lack of resources has caused a behavior epidemic. Teachers have reported being bitten, spit on, pushed, punched and called derogatory names, and they say schools do not have uniform discipline policies and often return misbehaving students to classrooms. Parents have raised concerns about schools being underprepared to deal with students with various needs and learning styles. Parents have reported violations of students’ Individual Education Program — the legal document that outlines supports and services for special education students. Parents have also voiced complaints about schools using restraints and seclusion techniques that isolate or physically restrain students. North Dakota does not permit the use of seclusion and only permits the use of restraint in extreme cases, but only by trained staff. Fargo and West Fargo school districts recently hired additional staff to address behavior, and received a 75% increase in funding to address mental health and safety concerns. … But despite a national move away from suspensions, suspensions in North Dakota have increased in recent years. In 2016-2017, 2,907 students were suspended or expelled in North Dakota, up from 1,622 in 2013-2014. Minnesota has seen a decrease in suspensions in recent years. A more diverse classroom Behavior issues do not necessarily come from students with disabilities, including students with mental or physical impairments, such as autism, emotional disturbances and other health impairments, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But today’s classrooms are also more likely to have students with disabilities and diverse needs and may require different teaching or communication techniques. … There is no longer a "typical" classroom makeup, said Patricia Cummings, director of special education for Fargo Public Schools. In one classroom, a student may need to have text read aloud because they're not reading at grade level while another student may need additional support to stay on task. The number of students with disabilities across the nation has doubled since 1989, and today, 1 in 6 children and teens have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder, according to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. Numbers of students with disabilities have grown in Fargo and West Fargo in recent years. In 2014-15, special education students made up 11.7% of the student population in Fargo schools, and by 2017-18 that figure had increased to 13.6%. In West Fargo schools, the percentage of special education students rose from 11.5% in 2014-15 to 12.3% in 2017-18. Some Fargo-area parents say the schools are inadequately prepared to teach students with diverse needs. Instead, if a child becomes frustrated, some parents say classroom teachers interpret this as hostility and noncompliance and are quick to remove students from the classroom, leading to discipline for students with disabilities…. In a recent survey, 70% of Fargo teachers said they do not feel safe in their classrooms, 76% said there are not consistent discipline procedures in schools, and half said they were hurt on the job. “We are losing great teachers and will have more difficulty recruiting young teachers unless something is done to protect the students and staff in the schools,” said Mark Kummer, a former teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School. With behavioral issues on the rise, schools are left to balance students' rights for equal education and students' rights to a safe, distraction-free classroom.
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