This editorial was first published in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Many teachers tell us that most of their students come to school focused and serious about learning. But they also say one student who harasses or threatens the teacher or classmates can derail the lessons for an entire class.
Bottom line, teachers must be able to control their classrooms. Fact is, too often many of them can’t because their hands are tied from fear they could become the subject of discipline themselves.
That’s why we support a law that goes into effect Sept. 1 that will make it easier to get students who harass teachers out of traditional classrooms and into alternative schools.
How do we ever expect teachers in this state to successfully improve student performance if class leadership is undermined and they don’t feel safe?
Districts in this state already are required to initiate removal of students to alternative school if they commit assaults. But in most cases, that doesn’t apply to students who threaten teachers with bodily harm. Schools have codes of conduct that prohibit students from harassing other students. Under the new law, teachers will receive the same protections.
It sends a clear message that acts such as threatening physical harm, making obscene comments or making harassing phone calls can constitute harassment. It also gives teachers needed tools to remove students who exhibit such misbehavior.
We know that discipline in our schools is subjective. And any law is left to interpretation. So we like that reports of such harassment will trigger conferences among parents, teachers and administrators about the behavior. Schools are also required to consider mitigating factors such as the student’s intent, disciplinary history or disability when determining whether to remove a student.
We understand the concerns from some lawmakers and activists that discipline in schools has disproportionately affected minority students. It’s the reason Dallas ISD no longer suspends students in pre-K through second grade for minor offenses. Data showed that black students were kicked out of school at a significantly higher rate than their peers.
And it’s important to note that students in alternative classrooms have a higher chance of dropping out than those in regular classrooms.
Removing a kid from class can’t be done lightly. Teachers need to be aware that this isn’t a law to deal with routine testy exchanges between students and teachers or minor classroom disruptions. Districts need to ensure teachers have the leadership skills to effectively deal with that behavior within their classrooms.
But let’s keep in mind that all kids — regardless of race — suffer when the classroom is not a learning environment where the teacher is in charge. All of us, parents included, need to give teachers all the tools we can to make sure that happens.