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From the principal’s office to the courtroom

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In the heat of a tense moment, without planning, without forethought of any subsequent action, a stressed student might pop off a statement that has the potential to bring harsh consequences. If others perceive the verbal outburst as a threat, the student could be arrested and taken to juvenile court.

Such strong reaction to student misbehavior was born in the 1990s with zero-tolerance policies and a national appetite for getting tough on crime. The result of the harsh measures has helped create a school-to-prison pipeline.

Even students who are not arrested can face life-altering consequences if they are disciplined through suspension and expulsion. They will be removed from the classroom, putting them behind in the coursework and at increased risk for dropping out completely.

“We can’t say this is the Wild Wild West and we can do anything we want to children,” said attorney JauNae Hanger.
 

JaeNue Hanger Hanger

Hanger has spent much of her career working on juvenile issues as well as public policy related to reforming the juvenile justice system and how society treats children. In 2012, she helped found and currently serves as board chair of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, a nonprofit that educates and advocates for fundamental changes to public policy regarding Hoosier children.

A key issue for the organization is school discipline. During the 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly, CPLI pushed a bill that would have created a model approach to addressing troublesome students without using extreme measures that can cause long-term harm.

The measure, House Bill 1287, was authored by Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, and based on the work done by CPLI’s Equitable School Discipline Work Group chaired by retired educator Carole Craig. Although the bill failed to get out of committee, members of the initiative said it broadened the discussion of school discipline issues, and they are hopeful it will be on the Legislature’s summer study agenda.

Putting the hammer away

School principals are now joining the conversation. Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, raised concerns that the bill was drafted without input from teachers, counselors and administrators, and it limits the schools’ discretion in maintaining a climate conducive to learning.

“Principals through and through don’t want to just suspend and expel kids,” Bess said. “The times when they do, they feel like it’s a situation that has to occur for the needs of the school and, this sounds strange, but also the needs of the student.”

The misconception, he said, is that principals remove students from the classroom at the first infraction when actually other means of discipline were tried before the harsh method was applied.

However, Craig said on the whole school discipline codes have become punitive. As an alternative, CPLI is promoting methods that prevent students from causing disruptions and keep bad behavior from spiraling out of control.

“We’re not talking about having unsafe schools, that’s absolutely ridiculous,” Craig said. “We’re talking about using proven interventions and helping children rather than going straight to the hammer.”

Some schools in the state are incorporating best practices into their approach to discipline and showing positive results. HB 1287 sought to expand the use of evidenced-based methods by requiring the Indiana Department of Education to develop a model plan for improving behavior and discipline in the classroom.

Bess said schools do need to use best practices when dealing with student discipline, but he cautioned against what he saw as the bill’s blanket approach to addressing the issue of suspension and expulsion. Sometimes an elevated response is necessary, he continued, and HB 1287 would limit a school’s options.

“Whenever we get into a broad approach like that, there probably would be unintended consequences,” Bess said. “We want to avoid that at all costs.”

Disproportional discipline

Other provisions in the CPLI proposal would require schools to report information related to disciplinary actions and would require the DOE to take a look at disproportionality in discipline.

An examination of data from Indiana’s public schools found that over a five-year period, African-American students were being suspended at a higher rate than other ethnic groups.

According to an analysis for CPLI by Brandie Oliver and Nick Abel, both assistant professors in the College of Education at Butler University, in-school and out-of-school suspensions for African-Americans far exceeded expectations based on total school population.

African-American students represented roughly 12 percent of the total school population in Indiana but they accounted for about 26 to 28 percent of the in-school suspensions from school years 2007 through 2012. The rate climbed for out-of-school suspensions, with 37 to 42 percent of this kind of discipline being assigned to African-Americans.

Neither Oliver nor Abel was surprised by the results of their study, saying it confirmed the anecdotal evidence they have encountered. The pair has requested more specific data from the DOE and hope to have a more comprehensive report on school discipline in Indiana by the end of the summer.

Despite its inability to get to the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives, HB 1287 and the testimony it inspired made an impression on House Education Committee Chair Rep. Robert Behning. He included language in his measure, House Enrolled Act 1319, that urged the Legislative Council to assign the topic of school discipline and suspension of students to a summer study committee.


behning-robert Behning

School discipline is a concern of the General Assembly, the Indianapolis Republican said, especially with regard to minorities who represent a higher rate not only for school suspensions but also in prison populations.

“I do believe it’s something we ought to take a look at and figure out a way to reduce,” Behning said.

CPLI maintains the best way to disconnect the school-to-prison pipeline is to keep the students out of the juvenile justice system and keep them engaged in school. It charges expulsion is used too often, too readily and effects the most vulnerable children.

Bess countered the statistics do not give the entire picture. The data does not provide the whole story of what happened and what other disciplinary strategies were tried before the suspension was issued.

Jill Johnson, assistant division chief of juvenile delinquency at the Marion County Public Defender Agency, questioned the practice of kicking kids out of school. She conceded the jobs of teachers and principals are not easy, but time and time again she has seen students banned from the classroom for months. The students are stuck at home instead of being in school where they have the opportunity to learn and participate in pro-social programs.


johnson Johnson

Recently, the Marion County juvenile courts have begun to pay more attention to classroom discipline by considering alternative approaches for students arrested in school, Johnson said. The courts have shown more willingness to make an informal adjustment which would require a student to stay out of trouble and do something like community service or write a letter of apology.

This is seen by Johnson as a positive step since the informal adjustments can prevent the low-risk, non-violent students from going deeper into the justice system and encountering bad influences.

What Johnson would like to see happen next is the juvenile courts and schools to start working together. Too often, the juvenile justice system feels as if the students are being dumped at the backdoor and schools are saying “they’re your problem now,” she said. Moreover, being arrested at school in front of their peers can be especially traumatic for students.

“Is it a deterrent?” Johnson asked of sending troublesome students to juvenile court. “I don’t know because I don’t know if it’s addressing the heart of what the issue is.”•

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  • very sad
    in reality schools do not care about future of child , feel not responsible. It is because wrong attitude towards public schools , where child's future often getting damaged. Schools can do miracle , if would feel responsible. We have to learn from some other(even much more poor) countries, where children getting great education , and are treated like children , but not like criminals.Human is biggest value , but not money..
  • time for changes
    I lost my daughter after involvement with Juvenile System. She was expelled from school , sent to Girl's school for year for small things , what many teens do. Since then her life and health collapsed, she is lost human. She was 13-14 when she get involved with Juvenile "justice" system.

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  1. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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