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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Three things have happened in Jacksonville, which show the complete breakdown of discipline in our public schools.

Three things have happened in Jacksonville, which show the complete breakdown of discipline in our public schools.

The first was the suspension of Assistant Principal Oscar Harris for breaking up a brutal fight at Westside High School. He also received several blows and a torn meniscus for his troubles. The district said he took a student down to hard. What’s to hard when you are protecting yourself or others? Ironically Harris was the only person who was truly injured.

Next there was the murder of Johnnel Johnson at a house party. Were the perpetrator is still at large as of this writing, witnesses say it was the continuation of a fight that happened at First Coast high school. A fight where sources say both participants received a light punishment if it could be called that and zero follow up.

Then there is Ken Amaro the bow tie wearing consumer reporter at channel 12. Known mostly for checking into pot holes or chasing down roofers who didn’t get the job done, he recently went off about all the violence in Duval Schools, saying he was going to get the bottom of it and quite frankly if the school district has lost Ken Amaro then it has lost the city.

When Superintendent Vitti arrived to town he knew we had a discipline problem and hired dozens of extra security personnel. Fast-forward two years and those positions and more were cut and a feel good discipline initiative called restorative justice was placed in our schools, a program that has taken discipline from poor to practically non-existent.

Now maybe the superintendent’s heart is in the right place, we probably were suspending to many students but to go from one extreme to the other where students can act up repeatedly just creates another set of problems.

Vitti cited a 24 percent drop in in-door suspensions, a 12 percent decline in out-of-school suspensions and a 20 percent decline in arrests to show that school discipline and safety are improving, but “this is an area I must continue to hone, address and improve,” he said.

The thing is he is doing the city a disservice when he presents this all is well message that even Ken Amaro doesn’t believe. Him pointing to the stats got me thinking about how many times I heard the same thing and it wasn’t true then and it’s not true now.

I heard it in 2009, when a Times Union article reported describing how suspensions have dropped 30 percent from year to year;

Then again in 2010 when they said we had a 71 percent drop in suspensions.

Another article in 2012, talked about a 35% drop in suspensions over three years. I guess the bulk of that came in 2010. In that article they at least questioned the possibility of under reporting.

And I could have went on and on, as there have been quite a few stories about dramatic drops in suspensions and referrals over the years. Now you don’t have to believe me just look at what members of the district have said even just recently.  

The principal at Oak Hill in a Times Union article … added that teachers want more parental support and to be able to remove disruptive students from class more often than the district discipline guidelines allow. Duval is transitioning to more restorative discipline techniques, she said.

Then School Board member Connie Hall in the Times Union said,  …she wants more improvement in children’s behavior, especially more respect for teachers and principals.
But don’t just take their word for it ask a teacher what they think about the superintendent’s new discipline initiative. You will find most think it is a disaster.
Discipline is hard but necessary and I am not saying to drop the hammer or be cruel but it is something we have to address and its something that is holding back the learning of many children. If a teacher spends just ten percent of their time disciplining, usually just a couple kids too, then the entire class has lost out on 18 days of instruction.

Kids need consequences for their behavior and fighting should never be tolerated. If the fights recently publicized would have happened at the landing or in a grocery store kids would have went to jail. Society wouldn't have just shrugged their shoulders and said, oh kids will be kids, they would have demanded something be done.

Again Vitti's heart may have been in the right place, we were probably suspending children at to fast of a pace and we were definitely ignoring the underlying causes of their behavior, who knows given proper training and resources restorative justice might even work. We however have an epidemic of violence in our schools and it's just a matter of time before a tragedy like the one that happened at the party happens at one of our schools.  

When the district suspends assistant principals for taking their life in their hands to protect other children, when they are disingenuous about what is happening in our schools and report massaged statistics, when they start initiatives like restorative justice but give very little training and follow up and when they refuse to give consequences for poor behavior and then don’t follow up with our most vulnerable children they are courting tragedy and some innocent teacher or student is going to pay the price.

We can and should be dong better.


  1. I'm calling Ken!

  2. Is there a link to Ken's rant?

  3. These people do not process referrals any more. Its insane. The student know it too. Too busy using CAST to ruin teachers.

  4. I am a teacher at First Coast and I have to agree. Our students have no consequences, so they stroll to class, at least a fifth of each class is late. Come look at our campus 15 minutes after school has started and you will see all the students taking their time to get to class. The worse time is after lunch. Teachers don't bother even writing referrals for half of what their students do. Nothing is done, I watched some classes last week because a senior teacher was out. I would have thought last period I was teaching 9th graders because their behavior was so bad. I do not know what can be done to save First Coast. It is now a school made up mostly of novice teachers. There has been a mass exodus of experienced teachers and it has nothing to do with the student's bad behavior. Don't get me wrong. Most of the students are really good kids. It is that the bad ones continue to cause such havoc that we can't give enough time to the students who want to learn. The new teachers should not have to face these classes without any support. They need training in classroom management and an administration that will support them.

  5. Even the typically good students are taking advantage of the situation. They may not be fighting or disrupting class, but they are late, gather around the fights, and skip because they know there will be no consequences.

  6. I teach at First Coast too and the students are in control of the school. One of the senior admins has gotta be the worst in the entire district. Dr. Brennan receives all the blame, but its not all on him.

  7. The cellphone problem is out of control. Again, zero consequences.

  8. Yet the district recently told principals to enforce the cell phone policy. I guess when they visit they notice that they are everywhere.

  9. Enforcement with no consequences won't work.

  10. They do have consequences.....for teachers!

  11. Chris, I heard Sandalwood actually enforces their cell phone policy. Are there Sandalwood teachers who can let us know how they have been successful?

  12. I recently took some cellphones from the "chronic offenders" in my class to prove a point. They were returned at the end of class. The result? The parents emailed me, saying that their children were unfairly "targeted." Oh, right, because I should be able to see 100% of every phone hiding in my class of 50 middle schoolers?!?! I suppose since I obviously can't do that, then I can't take their innocent baby's phone. I'm so tired of it. It's the parents every bit as much as the kids. Yes, please someone do tell us how to successfully deal with the cell phone issue.