In an effort to have positive intervention in misbehavior schools are now training teachers and staff to avoid suspensions through techniques to reduce incidents. On Valentine’s Day a group of students presented Sandy Lewandowski, who is the superintendent of a west metro school district, with an oversized white card decorated with pink and magenta hearts. The following week one of the fifth-graders hit her teacher so hard the teacher ended up in the hospital with a concussion.
Violent behavior, even in such a young child, is typically a ticket out of the classroom, with drastic consequences. But among other services it provides its 12 member districts, Lewandowski’s Intermediate District 287 operates programs for kids with mental-health issues and unique disabilities.
So where other educators often see behavior — willful, volitional behavior — Lewandowski’s staff is trained to see unmet social and emotional needs. In this case, it turned out that the girl’s father had gone to prison early that morning. The school was able to step in with support.
The card sits in a place of pride on Lewandowski’s credenza, a reminder no doubt of the urgency underpinning a proposal she’d like state lawmakers to give serious consideration during the current, jam-packed session.
For a modest quarter-million dollars, District 287 could train administrators and educators in one school in every district in Hennepin County to replace punitive measures with positive discipline and
behavioral approaches that Lewandowski’s specialized programs have proven work.
But first House File 2707 needs a hearing, not an easy thing to come by in a session that’s moving like greased lightning. Helpfully, eradicating suspensions and expulsions — exclusionary practices, in educator-ese — is a high-profile issue at the moment.
Several weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder issued a call of action: To reduce racial discrimination and increase graduation rates, American schools need to drastically curtail the circumstances in which students are removed from the classroom.
“Unfortunately today, suspensions and expulsions are not primarily used as a last resort for serious infractions,” said Duncan. “It is adult behavior that has to change.”
Closer to home, the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and the interfaith group ISAIAH have worked to raise awareness of the problems associated with suspensions.
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