Education Opinion

Making Schools Safer Is Harder Than it Seems

By Walt Gardner — August 14, 2017 1 min read
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There are many factors that parents take into consideration in evaluating the schools their children attend. But if they had to choose the most important, I think it would be safety (“NY educrats’ plan to make schools less safe,” New York Post, Jul. 29).

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, schools are evaluated in part by their suspension rates. To make themselves look good, schools will game the system by simply stop suspending students. This is happening in school districts across the country.

Some reformers believe that suspensions were always counterproductive. They argue that supensions are responsible for the school-to-prison pipeline. If restorative justice could be shown to be more effective than suspensions, then I would agree with them. But it’s hard to know the truth.

I don’t believe that learning can take place when students and teachers don’t feel safe. That’s why I believe that suspensions are necessary. The key is to use them for clearly spelled out actions. I remember the changes I saw beginning in the late 1960s when the student rights revolution began. Until then, teachers acted in loco parentis. But after the U.S. Supreme Court in Goss v. Lopez held in 1975 that students had the right to due process for even the most minor misbehavior discipline, everything changed.

Making matters worse, one year later the high court held in Wood v. Strickland that if teachers and principals knowingly violated a student’s due-process rights, they would be subject to punitive damages. The result is seen today in the reluctance of anyone to address safety issues firmly. It’s little wonder that safety remains the No. 1 concern of parents.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.