Just for APs: When Serious Discipline Issues Consume All Your Time

APs and Serious Discipline Issues

Handling student discipline is typically the bailiwick of assistant principals, although it is usually not their only responsibility. As spring fever begins seizing the student body, many APs find that they have little time for anything but handling office referrals.

Commonly-violated rules can lead to student expulsion in states and districts with zero-tolerance policies

Spring is a perfect time of year to revisit the most commonly-violated rules. I was an elementary principal when California’s legislature enacted its first zero-tolerance law for weapons and dangerous objects at school, which became part of the state’s Education Code. School districts quickly revised their board policies and suspension and expulsion forms to reflect the new code.

In a little over two years at my school, 11 students engaged in behaviors determined by the district to require an expulsion hearing. Most of these received a suspended expulsion, but a handful of students were expelled. Another half dozen were transferred to other schools on a probationary basis.

Dangerous objects were pervasive at an elementary school with a fighting culture

Most of the cases involved dangerous objects: Sewing scissors brought from home, string used to choke a fellow student and a handful of sharpened pencils taped together and used as a weapon in a fight. Forbidden objects became my top target for frequent, formal reminders.

Unfortunately, in schools serving high-poverty attendance areas, many students routinely witness violence in their neighborhoods and homes. When I arrived at my school, fighting was the norm to solve any sort of disagreement, and I have devoted a number of past posts to our efforts and successes in changing the fighting culture.

Serious, ongoing discipline issues require APs and teacher-leaders to work together

With no AP, my teacher leaders were the brain trust I relied on for partnering to develop solutions to this pervasive problem. Dangerous objects persisted for some time as an urgent issue. I learned that it had to be tackled on multiple fronts.

When students were sent to the office for possessing an inappropriate or dangerous object, their typical first defense was, “I found it in the bushes.” I used to picture the bushes along the sidewalks in the neighborhood surrounding the school simply bristling with all manner of contraband — knives, guns, syringes, condoms.

Parents with unhappy memories of school are likely to defend their children’s bad behavior

I also discovered almost immediately that a surprising number of parents would defend their child’s behavior, whether it was fighting, threatening others, and brandishing or even using dangerous objects in fights. I would often need to remind myself as well as my staff that for a number of our parents, school was not a happy or successful memory. When the school called with bad news, their immediate response was often defensiveness or lashing back.

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Terry Wilhelm knows what it takes to be a leader in today’s education community. She has served as a classroom teacher, a school principal, a district-level and area service agency administrator, and a college adjunct professor, and has extensive experience facilitating professional development for educators. In Leaders’ Link, Wilhelm offers strategies to meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities administrators encounter at the site and district level. Wilhelm holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and an administrative credential from California State University, San Bernardino. She is a district-level facilitator who works with educators nationally and is owner and founder of Educators 2000.

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