The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is currently engaged in drafting a new Student Conduct and Discipline Plan, with the school board’s goal of implementing that new plan in the 2014-15 school year. Recently, the ad hoc committee working on revising this plan released its first draft. For reasons that remain unclear, neither the school board, the ad hoc committee, nor the district administration has made clear how and when the public will have an opportunity to provide input into this important plan. However, since systems change rarely happens for those who wait, it is important for advocates who want to seize the educational opportunity to end Madison’s schools to prison pipeline and eliminate racial disparities, to engage in this plan now. It is in that spirit that I offer the following input on this plan.
At the outset, it is important to note that our public schools can and must teach appropriate behavior. Therefore, the Student Conduct and Discipline Plan, would be better named the Student Conduct and Education Plan. Only when educators recognize that the mission of all behavior management should be education, will we improve the educational results for all children. It is time for MMSD to embrace a mission that no student should ever be denied an education. While some students may have such highly challenging behavior that they need a specialized setting for their education, if anything, those students need more education, not less.
In addition, the draft plan does not list any goals. Without goals, how will we know if the plan is working? Laudable goals that should be applied to this plan include:
- reduction in the number of students suspended;
- reduction in the number of students expelled;
- increase in the overall safety of students and staff;
- reduction in the racial and disability disparities in suspensions and expulsions;
- increase in the educational performance of the student body;
- decrease in racial and disability disparities in educational performance;
- decrease in truancy;
- decrease in drop out rate;
- increase in graduation rate;
- increase in college acceptance rate; and
- increase in post-high school employment rate.
These lofty goals will certainly not be achieved at once, so a 5 year plan for gradual improvement in each area with specific targets for each year should be embedded in the plan with built-in review and accountability measures put in place.
Next, the draft states the purpose of the plan. While the purposes listed are fine, and fortunately include “support positive behavior change in students,” additional purposes should be added, including:
- Identifying home and community issues, including health issues that could be contributing to behavior challenges and connecting families to appropriate resources to assist with those issues;
- Adding data review to the already stated purpose of ensuring that “students are treated fairly and without discrimination,”
- Connect quality education with behavior improvement, as it is well known that frustrated students often misbehave out of frustration in the classroom;
- Identifying strengths and weaknesses at the classroom, school and district-wide level on an ongoing basis to improve on weaknesses by replicating promising practices; and
- Using behavior challenges to engage in the child find obligation of state and federal special education law to evaluate whether these children may qualify for special education supports and services.
The next section of the draft lists various Rights & Responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities will only become a reality if those responsible for enforcing them are held accountable for doing so.
The Student Rights & Responsibilities include many good things. However, they are missing this all important right:
- Access to appropriate supports and services to succeed in school.
The Parent/Guardian Rights & Responsibilities also includes many good things. However, they are missing:
- An in-school ombudsman to help parents resolve issues as quickly as possible.
- Reasonably quick response time from the school district when parents express concerns.
The draft School Administrator Rights & Responsibilities is a good start, but critically it fails to include the responsibilities to:
- Be held accountable for the successes and failures to achieve the goals of the plan at both the school building and district-wide level.
The Central Office Rights & Responsibilities must also include accountability measures. In addition, it should include:
- Clearly defined purpose of police presence which should be to carry out the goals of the plan, including reducing the school to prison pipeline, not increasing it.
- Clearly defining lines of authority between school based staff and central office based staff when handling behavioral challenges, which is currently quite muddled.
Finally, the Board of Education Responsibilities must include holding those responsible accountable for identified success and failures in achieving the gold of the plan.
The best part of the draft is the inclusion of many proactive strategies to improve behavior such as Positive Behavior Support (PBS), but even here the draft remains unclear as to how PBS will be applied; who will be accountable for its successful implementation, what are the lines of authority in its implementation, and will it be implemented district-wide.
The draft identifies many good Intervention Strategies, but misses the mark by failing to connect Effective Classroom Management with Quality Teaching. In the draft’s list of many pro-active intervention strategies, Trauma Informed Care should be added. In addition, it remains unclear how these strategies will be applied, who decides when they will be applied, who will be held accountable for their application, and what resources will be provided to ensure that they can be successfully applied.
It is good to see the draft acknowledges the obligation to follow state and federal special education law. However, as mentioned above, one aspect of that law that is left unmentioned is the child find obligation to use repeated behavioral challenges as a trigger to evaluate students for potential special education supports and services.
The draft concludes with a complex behavior response chart about which I will save in-depth comment for a future draft, other than to mention four critical missing factors:
- Identification of specific staff support when assistance is needed;
- Interventions should include support for academic challenges the student experiences;
- As interventions move up in intensity, review should include whether prior interventions were applied appropriately;
- No loss of educational time should be allowed even if removal from the classroom or traditional school building is absolutely necessary.
In sum, it is laudable that the MMSD school board has taken some initial good steps in revising its Student Conduct and Discipline Plan. Now is the time for advocates and the MMSD to come together to polish the plan and improve educational outcomes and safety of all of our students.