Thursday, January 26, 2012

What’s going on at Hoover School? (continued)

As I wrote here, a lot of the parents at our local elementary school have noticed an increase in the school’s use of disciplinary measures this year. In my view, the school was already overemphasizing behavior, to the point where school seemed to be more about being quiet and obedient than about inquiry or critical thought. But this year, the school seems so focused on behavior and discipline that it’s creating a negative, stressful atmosphere in which the kids increasingly see the adults at the school (especially the non-classroom teachers) as their adversaries.

I’ve written elsewhere about the school’s excessive emphasis on unquestioning compliance with school rules, and also about the atmosphere in the lunchroom, where the lunch attendants are constantly yelling at the children to be quiet during the few minutes they get to socialize over a meal. What’s new this year is the added layer of over-the-top discipline.

It’s hard to get a fix on what’s happening, since of course the school can’t talk about specific disciplinary incidents, but I’m certainly hearing things I haven’t heard in past years. I hear, for example, about the school accusing a third-grader (eight, nine years old?) of sexual harassment, requiring him to attend behavior classes, and threatening to expel him – all by letter to his parents. I hear about kids getting written up not for bullying, but for failing to report other kids for bullying. One parent told me that, after one particularly bad interaction her son had with the school, she has told her sons that if they are sent to the principal’s office, they can refuse to answer any questions until their parent arrives. I hear about whole groups of kids being punished because a few are too loud, and the kids being encouraged to police each other’s behavior if they want to avoid punishment themselves. One of the only two parents on the school’s PBIS Committee recently quit the committee because she felt that the school’s approach to behavior management was making the kids anxious and stressed out, and that the committee wasn’t taking those concerns seriously. I hear about more and more incident reports being sent home to parents, and suspensions, both in-school and out-of-school.

So last month I sent this email to the principal:
Hi – I’m just writing to ask about discipline at Hoover. It seems to me that there’s been a marked increase in the emphasis on discipline this year, and I’ve never heard so many stories of kids getting suspended or having incident reports sent home, etc. Is this just my imagination? If not, what is the rationale for the increase?

Is it possible for you to tell me how many incident reports and suspensions Hoover has had this year compared to last year? Of the suspensions, how many have been out-of-school as opposed to in-school? Again, it just sounds like it’s happening a lot more, but I don’t really know how to compare to previous years.

Thanks for any information,
The response, which was cc-ed to the superintendent and two assistant superintendents, was this:
Mr. Liebig -
I do post and share information in a public forum during PTA meetings. You are always welcome to attend these on the second Thursday evening of each month. Unfortunately, we are not meeting in December. The next meeting is scheduled for January 12, 2012. I am referring you to the superintendent’s office, as this is a public records request. If you feel this is the route you would like to take, I can get the administrative procedure document from his office to send to you
Thank you
A public records request? Really? So much for transparency.

To be continued.


Trouble at Hoover said...


I can verify the reports of 8-9 year old boys being suspended for so-called "bullying" and then much later being accused of sexual harassment for the same incident. My son is one such boy. No evidence was produced to justify this determination that the incident should be re-classified as sexual harassment. You would think that in order to be labelled sexual harrasment, something sexual would have to be alleged to have occurred. Not so with this group of administrators, apparently. Now a report on this incident in which my son was identified as a bad guy will be kept in the district's Equity Office for five years!

A school that can accuse my child of sexual harassment while utterly failing to back that serious accusation up with any evidence, is a school that doesn't have my child's best interests in mind.

There is something very wrong at Hoover this year, and it's not the teachers.

Chris said...

Trouble -- Thanks for commenting! I'm sorry to hear about what happened with your son. If Hoover is now treating accusations as proof of guilt, that would just be one more way that its approach to discipline is resembling the worst aspects of the American criminal justice system. (Related posts here and here.)

I have no idea what the school is accusing kids of doing, and I don't mean to minimize the harm that kids can sometimes do to one another. But they remain young children, and the school should have a compassionate response to both the accuser and the accused. Throwing the book at third-graders, and labelling them "sexual harrassers" (or even "bullies"), is both callous and counterproductive.

The school's working model, as always, is purely behavioral -- "if we punish them harshly enough, their behavior will change" -- without regard to the idea that kids think and feel in ways that might complicate that simplistic picture. You have to be awfully attached to an abstract theory not to see how this kind of heavy-handed discipline could be harmful to the kids.

Like you, I am increasingly concerned about my kids' emotional security in what that school is becoming.

Chris said...

By the way, I understand that you might not be comfortable commenting any further, but I'd be curious to know whether you followed up on this incident at the district level, and if so, what the result was.

FedUpMom said...

Wow. One of my daughters dropped her pants in the middle of her kindergarten class (as a joke). Of course the teacher told her it was unacceptable, inappropriate, etc, and she didn't do it again. But there was no suggestion of "sexual harassment." I'm glad it wasn't a public school.

Kids are kids, and they don't always behave the way we would like. But heavy-handed discipline is not the answer. I think it actually promotes bullying by modeling it.

I often think of military schools in this context. Military schools are famous for their "strict discipline", so much so that some parents think they will "make a man" of their child. But they are also notorious for bullying and hazing. There's a connection.

FedUpMom said...

Here's another case of "sexual harassment", this one by a 6-year-old!

Boy, 6 Suspended in Sexual Assault Case at Elementary School