Teachers Weigh in on Policy for Suspensions ; 11-Point Proposal Gets Mixed Reviews

By Pasciak, Mary B. | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), February 7, 2012 | Go to article overview

Teachers Weigh in on Policy for Suspensions ; 11-Point Proposal Gets Mixed Reviews


Pasciak, Mary B., The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


Teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools say they like some aspects of the proposed changes to the district's suspension policy but question whether classrooms will become more chaotic as a result, putting well-behaved students at the mercy of repeat offenders.

The administration last week unveiled an 11-point plan to reduce out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses, especially in the elementary schools. The plan takes more of a preventive approach to student misconduct and allocates some resources for more student supports, such as adding a full-time teacher's assistant to every kindergarten class.

A dozen teachers in the district -- from elementary and high schools, from low-performing schools to the highest-ranked schools - - shared their reactions to the changes proposed by interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon. Nearly all of them wanted to talk about the proposed changes to the policy but asked that their names not be used in the story.

Some praised the plans to provide additional staffing supports for students.

"I cannot emphasize enough that having teacher aides or significantly smaller class sizes in all grade levels can only assist in behavior management in the classrooms," said one elementary school teacher.

One veteran high school teacher praised the proposed changes -- which resulted after four public hearings to get community input -- calling the changes "common sense and workable."

"We know who is acting out but rarely ask why -- just offer short-term fixes," she said. "I like much of what [Dixon] proposed and like the process that went into the draft."

A vocal group of parents and community members, led by the Alliance for Quality Education and Citizen Action, has for several weeks demanded changes from the administration and School Board. Dixon last week unveiled the proposed changes, some of which would take effect as soon as the board approves them and others that would take weeks or months to implement.

"I feel the policy was changed to limit the bad publicity lately. This is a very troubling turn of events going forward," said one teacher at a low-performing high school.

Many teachers expressed frustration, saying they have a difficult time dealing with a host of issues that students bring into school with them.

"The school cannot overcome the home, no matter how hard it tries," said one teacher of English as a second language. "Band- Aid solutions such as the suspension policy may temporarily remedy some behavior problems, but the real remedy needs to start with home and society."

Many teachers said a lack of parent involvement is persistent and debilitating.

One of the changes proposed by Dixon would require elementary school principals to hold a conference with a student's parent to address minor infractions, rather than suspend a student. That has won kudos from parent and community activists but is largely met with skepticism by teachers.

"My school already uses the policy of parent conferences instead of suspensions. Many parents don't show," said one elementary school teacher. …

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