Thursday, November 17, 2011

On handcuffing seven year old students

An APS Police Officer used her best judgement (I am supposing), when she slapped handcuffs on a second grader.

"Best judgement" is part of a weasel clause that permeates administrative standards of conduct and competence. It allows administrators and board members to ignore written policies and create solutions to problems on a "case by case" basis. The clause breaks the surface rather candidly in the Student Behavior Handbook, page 2, link;

Nothing in the following is intended to prevent a ... principal or other administrator from using his/her best judgment with respect to a particular situation.
Later in the Handbook, specific consequences for misconduct are spelled out in a minimum mandatory consequences matrix. Whatever else the matrix provides, it gives the adults some assurance that if they turn a kid over to the principal for some consequences, the kid will receive a consequence of some consequence.

Those kinds of consequences are loathe to many administrators. They don't like having to deal with parents who are pissed off because their kid is being punished. They don't like the phone calls from central office telling them to quit pissing off parents. So they use their "best judgement" and put chronically disruptive students back in classrooms where the lack of resources and support guarantees the problems will get worse.

The officer involved will find out the administrative weasel clause doesn't apply to her. She will be expected to have followed poorly written guidelines to the letter.

When the situation got to the desk of APS Supt Winston Brooks, he laid down the law, link;
It is unacceptable to ever use handcuffs to restrain an elementary school student, even if that student is at risk of harming himself or others.

Rather than allow a student to harm others, I would be inclined to handcuff them. There is a continuum of restrain that runs the gamut from verbal admonition to lethal force. It makes perfect sense to insist that any situation be handled with as little force as is practical. If it is necessary to handcuff a kid to keep him from hurting himself or others, and no lesser response will control him, then handcuff him.

It remains to be seen if the officer involved did anything wrong. So far, we only have the APS spin, link. Once again, the APS Police Department is in charge of investigating its own alleged incompetence/corruption. The investigation ought to be done by an outside agency in order to prevent another cover up. Maybe Sheriff Dan Houston will step up.

Worth noting; if you look at the picture the mother took of her wayward son's wrists, they show marks that appear to be caused by excessive pressure between the handcuffs and skin. If you look at the apparent diameter of the welts, you will see that they are much larger than the diameter of the wrists; the pressure was applied by the student, not by the handcuffs.

That said, should a second grader ever be handcuffed?

The fundamental problem is two-fold; Brooks thinks student age is a meaningful discriminator, and, APS lacks any coherent approach to handling student discipline and chronically disruptive students.

Age is an arbitrary discriminator; we use it because it is easily measured. What is the difference between an out of control seven year old and an out of control eight year old; between a fifth grader and a sixth, between an eighth grader and a ninth? Age does not play. The only consideration is; is there another more acceptable option? If there are no other options, then handcuffing is appropriate among last resorts.

Perhaps this incident will call some attention to the issue of student discipline in the APS. It is a huge problem that never gets talked about. Brooks and board won't talk about student discipline and chronically disruptive students because their best efforts make barely a dent in problem. They are simply hiding their failure to enforce discipline policies in schools by never talking about the problem.

Effective and enforceable policies rest on sound philosophical foundations, or not at all.

APS discipline policies rest on no foundation at all. The leadership of the APS, by their free admission, has no written Discipline Philosophy.

How can you write good policy on the use of handcuffs without having taken the time to establish a philosophical justification for the policy? Even as simple a concept as; do you punish willful misconduct, or do you give the kid another second chance, and another, and another, until someday you end up slapping handcuffs on him?

The Journal printed Brooks spin on the front page, link, and
chose to not dig deep enough to expose any of the underlying issues.

As usual.


ched macquigg said...

A person I believe to be Wayne Knight left an anonymous comment, quoted in significant part - I am under no obligation to publish his ad hominem attacks.

Good teachers do not have discipline problems, nor do they refer them to administration constantly. They deal with them in the classroom, like any professional teacher should.
(... blah, blah, blah)

So you would send a seven year old to prison?

ched macquigg said...

As unlikely as sending a seven year old to prison is; if that's what it took to keep him from hurting other children, then yes, I would.

Knight, as a middle school principal, had a record of being ineffectual in enforcing school discipline policy, was the respondent in a number of complaints about his failure, and resented teachers who (rightly) sent chronically disruptive and dangerous students to the Office.

The negotiated agreement specifically charges the administration with enforcing discipline policies. Teachers should be free to teach.

Knight's assertion that good teachers don't have discipline problems is nonsense on its face - just ask any teacher.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher of 11 years, I don't have many discipline problems,a nd I seldom refer kids to the office.
That being comes at a high price to the majority of "good kids".
I take the time to "talk them down", show them "the error of their ways", instruct them that jail, or medication will be their future option if they don't learn self control.
Of course I must do this in private, outside the class because of esteem effects and personal privacy rights.
What I do for my "deliquents"is successful,a nd I think many oof them learn important lessons, and become better citizens.
However, I often regret the neglect effect it has on the courteous, attentive students that want to learn while I "parent"a hellraiser in my class to do what he/she should be doing in the first place.
On many occasions I realize I don't even know the grades and first/last names of my "great "kids... but I know everything about my "bad apples".
I care about them all... but the good ones are ignored at the expense of putting a concious into the ever-growing numbers of "bad kids"

Anonymous said...

Almost every school district in the country has a protocol for when,a nd when not, they should cuff elementary students.
Almost all state that it is a "last resort".
Brooks is pandering to the body politic when he says "no elementary student should ever be handcuffed", or he really is dangerously ignorant.
Either way, it was a thoughless, non-informed sattement to make.