Ask any teacher about their biggest challenges in the classroom, and the conversation will often turn to discipline.
Disruptive students can poison the learning environment for their classmates, through both bullying and distraction.
The classic answer to the problem in education has been to suspend or expel, removing the disruption from the classroom and sometimes from the school system altogether.
This approach treats the symptoms without addressing the root problem. Kids who misbehave return after suspensions, or they move on to another school and often cause similar disruptions.
Traditionally, a suspension or expulsion also meant that education, essentially, reached a standstill for offending students. They stopped learning while they served their time.
Over the past decade, many Indiana schools have gotten better at dealing with problem students without resorting to suspensions and expulsions.
Anderson Community Schools is an example. Such discipline used to be practically rampant at ACS.
The district reported 8,313 in-school suspensions and 179 expulsions for the 2011-12 school year. In a school system of about 7,000 students, the suspension rate was particularly alarming — more than a suspension per student.
ACS officials made a commitment a few years ago to figure out ways to keep troubled students in the system so that they continue to learn. As a result, suspensions fell to 3,500 and expulsions to 23 during the 2015-16 academic year.
ACS accomplished this through, in part, the development of more alternative school options, a redistribution of administrative resources and more support programs for troubled kids.
Schools across Indiana have come under increasing pressure to adopt reformative — not punitive — discipline.
A new state law mandates positive discipline models and reductions in suspensions and expulsions through these main points:
• Reduce disproportional discipline and expulsions of minorities.
• Limit involvement of law enforcement to only those cases where the health and safety of students or school staff is at risk.
• Through policy, address bullying and cyberbullying on school property.
• Comply with state surveys, for reports to the legislature, about the use of positive discipline.
While state laws can force compliance with a program to help troubled kids and keep them learning, the training of staff and the allotment of resources are key.
With a new school year about to begin, it's incumbent on all school districts in the Madison County area to give kids a fresh start and to take advantage of resources to help disruptive students continue in their education while addressing their behavioral problems.
Removing troubled students from the classroom can be the answer in terms of maintaining a positive learning environment. But the root causes of the behavior must be addressed for the good of the offending student and for the benefit of society.
To read a related news article, search for "disciplinary strategies" at heraldbulletin.com.