Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A request for information about discipline at Hoover School

As I described here, I’m concerned that our local elementary school has ratcheted up its focus on behavior and discipline this year, to the point where it’s creating a negative atmosphere at the school and needlessly stressing out the kids. When I asked the principal just how much the discipline numbers have gone up from last year, she told me that I would need to make a public records request to get that information. In the ensuing series of email exchanges I had with the principal and district administrators, it became obvious that the district was not interested in hearing what parents might have to say about how the disciplinary system is affecting the kids. So I figured it was time to go ahead and get the numerical information – even though, as the assistant superintendent had reminded me, I would have to pay the cost of gathering the data.

So, in place of the relatively simple question I had asked the principal, I drafted a more detailed information request. I asked about four types of discipline: behavior reports sent home to parents, in-school suspensions (technically called “in-school restrictions”), out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions. For each type of discipline, I asked for this year’s numbers up until Winter Break, and last year’s for that same period, as well as last year’s year-end total. I also asked for copies of the paperwork that accompanies a behavior report.

To be continued.

To read the full request, click on the “Read More” link.

Dear Superintendent Murley:

I’m writing to follow up on my email questions about how frequently certain disciplinary measures have been used at Hoover Elementary School both this year and last year. As I explained in my earlier emails, I’m concerned that Hoover has intensified its focus on behavior and discipline to the point where it is creating a negative atmosphere at the school and leading the students to view the adults at the school (particularly the non-classroom-teachers) as their adversaries. I would just like to get a sense of how much the use of serious disciplinary measures has changed from the last academic year to this one.

I thought I could simply ask for the basic numbers in an email to the principal, but the district responded that I could get the information only by making a formal public records request. I’m still a little puzzled by that response, since I’m not asking to look at any records, and I assume that individual disciplinary records are confidential anyway. All I’m asking for is information. I know I can’t expect the district to engage in extensive or time-consuming tasks just for my benefit, but I’m guessing that the district already keeps track of disciplinary data. In any event, this letter is to make a more formal, detailed request for information, which you can treat as a records request if necessary.

If you’re unable to answer any of the questions, please just let me know and provide whatever partial answer you can. I’m happy to clarify any of the questions if you need me to. Again, I’m really just asking for the numerical information, and not to inspect any records myself, given the student confidentiality concerns. However, an alternative would be to provide me copies of the relevant records with all confidential information redacted.

A couple of terms to clarify: When I use the phrase “behavior report,” I mean a written communication from the school notifying a student’s parent or guardian that the student has engaged in misconduct or misbehavior. When I use the phrase “in-school restriction,” I mean the type of discipline described in Board Policy/Administrative Regulation section IV(A)(11), while I mean “out-of-school suspensions” to refer to the type of discipline described in section IV(A)(12).

If you do treat this as records request, I’d like to take you up on your offer to provide me a cost estimate before you start answering the request. I’d appreciate it if you would give separate estimates for each of the five numbered requests; I can submit them as separate requests if necessary.

Here is the information I am looking for:

1. In-school restrictions

Please state:

(a) The number of in-school restrictions of Hoover students between August 18, 2011 and December 20, 2011 (inclusive)

(b) The number of in-school restrictions of Hoover students between August 19, 2010 and December 20, 2010 (inclusive)

(c) The number of in-school restrictions of Hoover students during the 2010-11 school year

2. Out-of-school suspensions

Please state:

(a) The number of out-of-school suspensions of Hoover students between August 18, 2011 and December 20, 2011 (inclusive)

(b) The number of out-of-school suspensions of Hoover students between August 19, 2010 and December 20, 2010 (inclusive)

(c) The number of out-of-school suspensions of Hoover students during the 2010-11 school year

3. Expulsions

Please state:

(a) The number of expulsions of Hoover students between August 18, 2011 and December 20, 2011 (inclusive)

(b) The number of expulsions of Hoover students between August 19, 2010 and December 20, 2010 (inclusive)

(c) The number of expulsions of Hoover students during the 2010-11 school year

4. Behavior reports

Please state:

(a) The number of behavior reports sent to parents/guardians of Hoover students between August 18, 2011 and December 20, 2011 (inclusive)

(b) The number of behavior reports sent to parents/guardians of Hoover students between August 19, 2010 and December 20, 2010 (inclusive)

(c) The number of behavior reports sent to parents/guardians of Hoover students during the 2010-11 school year

5. Behavior report form. If the school ever used a standard form to send behavior reports to parents/guardians during the 2010-11 or 2011-12 school years, please provide a blank copy of that form.

Thank you,
Within a few days, I modified the request slightly:
I would like to clarify the request in one respect: I would like to make it clear that, by “behavior reports” in Requests 4 and 5, I mean to include the “Follow-Up” materials mentioned by the principal in the “Hoover Headlines” of January 6, 2012.


FedUpMom said...

Good for you, Chris! I can't wait to see the results.

Josh M said...

Man! This saga just keeps getting more interesting. I keep looking forward to each new development, so please keep the story coming! As a teacher myself, I am so glad to see someone like you press the oppressive system of public education; just reading it is cathartic. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

First, how much time have you spent at Hoover? Have you ever spent a day there to see what the atmosphere is? Aren't you the same parent that complained two years ago because teachers were giving out positive reinforcements? I really feel like the old saying don't judge someone until you walk a mile in thier shoes comes to play here. Instead of constantly finding things that are wrong with our school don't you think volunteering there and/or supporting the positives about our school might be more useful? I am going to choose the "anonymous" option because there have been many on your list of people who you have berated and belittled at this point and would rather put my time into supporting our school and working toward bettering it.

Josh M said...

I would remind "Anonymous" that Ben Franklin insisted "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." And Edward Murrow implored us to remember that "Dissent should be confused with disloyalty."

Chris is well within his rights as a citizen and parent to have access to the information he's wondering about, and is right to be concerned about what the current fads in education are doing to students.

That you volunteer at the school is admirable; that's certainly a great way to help. This is what Chris is doing to help. And educators who care about what faddish policies may be doing to students applaud him for it.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- You're welcome to be anonymous on this site, though I do wish people would choose screen names, so we could tell the various anonymous commenters apart.

I suspect you're not the only person who responds to this site in that way, but I have to say that I just don't understand that reaction. I don't understand people who see all criticism of what goes on at a public school as some kind of personal attack. Under that view, how could anyone object to district policies or practices without being guilty of "berating and belittling" people? Seriously, who have I berated and belittled on this site? Most of the time I don't even mention people's names, because I want to focus on the issues, not on personalities.

More importantly, how are criticism and support opposites? How is it "supportive" of the school to ignore the things that need changing? How could one "work toward bettering" the school without identifying the things that need bettering?

A few years ago, large portions of the population seemed to think that any criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq was not "supporting our troops." Isn't that the same logic you're using?

I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me, but if you disagree with my criticisms of the school, why not explain why? You seem upset that I'm criticizing Hoover, but you don't make any effort to say why I'm wrong.

I am at the school almost every day, by the way, and talk to a lot of people, including kids, about what's going on there. But again, if something I've said about the school is inaccurate, why not tell me what it is? That would be a great use of the comments! But you've corrected me on exactly nothing.

It sounds like you just wish criticism and dissent would go away, regardless of whether they're right or wrong. I don't understand how that attitude is consistent with making anything better, or with "supporting" the kids at the school.

FedUpMom said...

If your best friend is about to walk into an important meeting with a big hunk of spinach stuck in her teeth, what's the supportive thing to do?

If the schools are moving in a bad direction, it's totally supportive to say so.

Xphial said...

Another parent here:

I whole heartedly support Chris! He's doing his job as a parent -making sure his childrens' environment supports their growing up into healthy, capable adults. If it means being a watchdog, then it'd be just another of them many hats we wear as parents.

His blog is merely highlighting the irony and dichotomy of Hoover's use of PBIS and NCLB in general. The underbelly of this has been the time regimentation, lunch room overlording, and behavior nitpicking. Sure, you get a prize for being quiet in line but squirm in your seat a little bit b/c you're bored and easily understand the material...Boom - get out the behavior sheet and mark a 1!

This is just creating such a negative and repressing environment. IMHO, Chris wouldn't doing his job as a parent if he didn't speak up!

Chris said...

Josh, Xphial, and FedUpMom -- Thanks for the moral support.

Xphial -- My feelings exactly. There's nothing inconsistent about opposing this harsh disciplinary approach and also opposing PBIS; they're both part and parcel of the same obsessive focus on behavior and elevation of quietness and obedience over inquiry and thought. They both value compliance regardless of why the kids comply. Are the kids just complying out of greed or acquisitiveness, or to get a treat, or to escape a punishment, or to please whoever's in charge? These approaches don't care -- as long as they get the behavior they want.