Suspensions and Equity
Over the years much has been written about the ineffectiveness of suspensions. This is a particularly favourite topic for academics who spotlight the negative impact withdrawal from school has on the individual student. Bureaucrats latch on to this ‘disadvantage’ and with the pretence of caring about the student they make the process of suspensions so difficult that they can claim some success in dealing with behavioural problems. I previously used the term ‘spotlight’ deliberately as both the academics and the bureaucrats focus on the child as if they exist in isolation.
Some years ago I wrote an essay that illustrated the dilemma all schools face when dealing with severe behaviours and I will repeat that essay here.
Aspects of Ethical and Practical Challenges Facing
NSW Comprehensive Schools.
I have had in my school identical twin boys. They would be in Year 8 at this time. These boys were excellent students with very supportive parents.
These twins are not only physically identical their academic results in primary school were also indistinguishable. From the very start of their time in my school the parents requested the boys be in different classes to help them establish a level of autonomy.
One of the boys was by chance placed in a class with a student whose behaviour is extremely disruptive. This unruly student has extreme difficulties with anger control and outbursts of menacing behaviours. He has a current ‘risk assessment’ and has been placed on a series of suspensions for his more extreme actions. He has also been the focus of a lot of support to address this behaviour.
This student has a diagnosed mental health issue and his parents use this in support of his right to be in the class under conditions of equity. They resist every attempt by the school to find a more suitable alternate placement.
Despite their refusal I have put the student up for alternate placement but have been unable to get one. Not only does the alternate setting declare his behaviours do not suit their program their setting require parent support.
The situation with the dysfunctional student has reached a state where the student is continually being either withdrawn from class or on suspension. Now these parents are threatening me with legal action over the treatment of their son, citing the new equity legislation. They insist I have to cater for his disability.
I have no evidence of physical violence so the use of Work Health and Safety argument for his ‘removal’ would be hard to argue. I certainly believe there is a level of psychological damage being done but I am not supported in my attempts to prosecute this case for his removal. However, the reality of his behaviours disturbing the teaching/learning environment in the classroom is quite easy to demonstrate.
The parents of the twins began to complain about the results for their son who was in the disrupted class. He had fallen well behind his brother. The difference in their achievement levels became quite obvious. Supporting evidence, that the delay was directly linked to the persistent outbursts in disruptive behaviour in his class could be demonstrated by the results he achieved in the Year 7 elective stream. In the elective class, where two classes become three the twins happen to be together and the uncontrollable, was in another. In the elective class the twin’s results were compatible but there was a slight ‘delay’ in the child from the disrupted class. I believe this deterioration in learning reflects a range of personal changes that had taken place over the year. I suspect there has been a decline in the child’s confidence, expectations and educational development.
The parents of the twins demanded their son, who they could see was ‘failing’ be removed from the disrupted class. They insist that their boys were not receiving an equal education.
I have a policy of not moving students just on the request of a parent. I will, if I believe there is an education reason that benefits all students but when it is an issue of moving one student because of a problem child all parents will legitimately insist on the same authority. If I move a child because the parents are articulate and/or aggressive and leave other children in that situation I am not acting in an ethical manner.
In the Christmas holidays the parents have taken the twins out of our school and enrolled them in a local private school. Our public school has lost two excellent students to the private sector.
The real issue I am now facing is that:
- The parents of the twins are now suing me, personally for the fees of one of the students on the ground of my inability to provide equitable learning conditions for both their children.
- The parents of the difficult student have made a complaint about my management of the student to the Disability authorities.
- More students are leaving my school putting me below the magic number of 700.
Fortunately, this is not a real, it is a thought experiment designed to illustrate the dilemma we face every day. Nothing in the scenario is unreasonable or that unusual but it highlights the moral and ethical predicament principals find themselves in ever more frequently.
Here are some issues I believe confront us all:
- What is our responsibility to the twins regarding the class we placed them in? That is what is our responsibility placing any student in a class with an identified disruptive student?
- What is our responsibility to the student with the mental illness whose behaviour is a result of his disability? By our nature I believe teachers feel a responsibility to help this child.
- What is our responsibility to provide learning conditions equal to the private sector? Is this not an equity issue?
- What is our responsibility to the teachers we assign to those difficult classes when we know their ‘quality’ may well be judged on results?
- How are we providing a ‘safe’ teaching and learning environment?
- What are the system responsibilities?
I have no answer for this dilemma’. I can find none in the current student welfare legislation, procedures or practices. We can address every one of these problems in isolation but not all together. Some of the problems are:
- We are forced to readmit these difficult students who are in real need despite the certainty that the problem will continue despite our best efforts.
- There is no provision for the numbers of these students who really need specialist interventions.
- There is a real drift away from comprehensive schools to the private or ‘selective’ public schools. This is resulting in a reduction of numbers of students prompting a reduction in school resources such as a second deputy and Head Teacher Administration. It also creates a concentration of students who come from families who are not socially equipped to flee their local school or students whose needs are so demanding no school other than their local public school will have them.
Principals face this moral dilemma every day, some in schools that are losing competent students, selecting out of their community and others who enrol these out of community students in the knowledge they are actively creating a class divide in our public schools.
I wrote that essay in 2013, almost ten years ago and if anything the situation has deteriorated. Schools, the principals and the staff do whatever they can to address this complex problem in isolation. The academics never investigate these issues, complexity makes for difficult research but the more soul-destroying is the complete lack of meaningful resources available to deal with students with severe behaviours.
Is it any wonder that resourceful parents placing their children in private schools that are heavily funded from our taxes and is it any wonder teachers are leaving in droves! It is obvious that local comprehensive schools are left to deal with the issues outlined above, alone and under resourced, held in place by dedicated teachers who are mistreated by the bureaucrats, academics, the media and of course our masters.