The city’s teachers union in a letter to the schools superintendent late last week expressed concerns about ending out-of-school suspension for students in pre-school through second grades for serious offenses.
John McEntee, president of the Paterson Education Association, in a letter to state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans on Thursday, stated the district’s prohibition on out-of-school suspension for serious offenses will likely result in teachers receiving poor evaluations on classroom management.
McEntee suggested some behaviors warrant suspension. He cited his own experience as a first grade teacher in the district. “As a former 1st-grade educator, I vividly recall an incident where a student pointed an imitation handgun at me at 7:30 AM. I also recall a group of 1st-grade students on the playground smoking black and mild cigarettes under the stairwell and students throwing chairs into the drywall,” read his letter dated January 5th, 2017. “In my humble opinion, these infractions not only warrant a suspension, but they also justify a hearing to determine the best course of action prospectively to help the student.”
Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools, said the district put into effect state law that was passed late last year by the New Jersey Legislature and signed by the governor. She said that law prohibits utilizing out-of-school suspension for students in PreK-2nd grades beginning July 1, 2017. This law allows schools to suspend students who violate the Zero Tolerance for Guns Act and if the student’s conduct is violent or sexual in nature and endangers others.
Corallo said the district’s policy put in place by the superintendent on November 1st, 2016 has the same exceptions. Evans announced the end of out-of-school suspension for early grade students in October after a news report highlighted the district suspended 238 students in kindergarten through second grades in 2015-16 school year. The revelation shocked education activists and community leaders who exerted pressure on the superintendent to take action.
Evans also called for a work group to come up with specifics to revise the Student Code of Conduct, recommend strategies to address needs of students requiring intervention, recommend professional development for school staff, and recommend ways to improve parent communication and involvement, said Corallo.
Evans issued a memo directing principals to find “creative, yet impactful interventions for students who otherwise may be suspended out-of-school.” It’s not clear what “creative” and “impactful” interventions the principals have come up with as alternatives to out-of-school suspension.
McEntee’s letter states he has received documentations from administrators offering suggestions to teachers on alternative measures to deal with disruptive students. “Make no mistake, Internet videos and magazine articles are not appropriate professional development to manage unruly and disruptive student behavior(s),” he wrote.
The superintendent formed a committee to look into the issue and complete a report. Corallo said the committee’s report will be presented to the school board’s at its February workshop meeting.
School board member Jonathan Hodges, who reviewed the district’s suspension data late last year, did not agree with completely removing suspension for PreK-2nd grades. He said he prefers an in-school suspension program whose aim is to instruct and correct unacceptable behavior. In some instances students are being sent home for low-level infractions that can be addressed through a stern talk from principals, he said.
“Loss of out of school suspension may be unwise,” said Hodges. “There may be some case where this is appropriate.”