As it just so happened, on the same day the Hamilton County School Board held a special two-hour meeting on Monday over disturbing disciplinary concerns among its 44,000 students, the Nashville Tennessean published a revealing report on school suspensions in the Nashville Metro Public Schools. After five years and a $2 million study, the results were available -- Nashville had launched a program called “The Passage” to determine why a disproportionate number of black children were suspended from the city’s middle and high schools compared to white classmates.
Now at the five-year mark, the Tennessean reported, “While the school district was able to lower its overall suspension rate, it dropped faster for white kids than black students, widening the gap. In the 2013-14 school year, black students were 2.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students; by 2018-19, they were 3.1 times more likely.” In Shelby County (Memphis) the disparity is 4-to-1 in the public schools yet Hamilton County was also chastised by the state and ordered to restore a closer ratio. And as in every other metro district in the state, the outcome was predictably … er, disparaging.
Last night this wasn’t what the Hamilton County board wanted to hear. Stung by several articles that have appeared on Chattanoogan.com in recent weeks, the board members voiced strong opinions the media wasn’t the place to air any dirty laundry or report any other system failures of any kind. They want every playground to have thick green grass, children not to sleep nor text in class, and – most of all -- for a critical media “to quit picking on kids who are economically and sociology deprived … it hurts their feelings.” Instead, “focus on the 95 percent of Hamilton County students that are excelling versus the five percent of troublemakers who drag all the rest down,” and, while you are at it, quit saying over 30 percent of school-aged children in Chattanooga are no longer allowed by their parents/guardians to attend the county’s public schools. “People get the wrong idea.”
No, people get the wrong idea when nine good and intelligent and well-meaning people meet in a specially called meeting to confront outlandish behavior in our public schools and, after you stir in all the wanderers from the Central office, I looked at my note pad for meaning when it adjourned and the page was blank. Totally blank. Nothing was decided, nothing was accomplished. A lot of people talked but not one person said anything of merit. I’ll compare my notes with anyone. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. While boredom found a new plateau, it was the most embarrassing misuse of mankind since Pharaoh made some slaves build a pyramid. I’ve had grilled cheese sandwiches more meaningful.
A number of stories that have appeared on Chattanoogan.com, citing specific instances of deplorable behavior that included one Brainerd High student who was shot 45 minutes after school ended several weeks ago, were urged by emails that were received in anonymity from faculties and staff at a number of schools. Those who wrote privately identified themselves, and were confirmed, but they also fear repercussions. Not one teacher was publicly identified, but it is hard to argue against the truth and fact. “Instead of writing the media, they ought to direct their remarks to some people who can do something about it,” said board member Karitsa Jones, apparently oblivious to the fact nine school board members and HCDE staff would most definitely not have given a desperate group of teachers from Tyner -- or those at wit’s end in any other school -- as much as five minutes on any conference call.
Jones, who admitted she had been the victim of a student’s foul mouth during a school visit, said she later made contact with the student the same day and, when the kid was told Jones was a school board member, he apologized. Those who teach in the schools, however, simply get ready for the next round or next day, often one and the same.
The disciplinary quagmire in Hamilton County came as a result of a 38-page ‘Student Code of Conduct’ that was introduced by the county’s Department of Education just before the start of the current school year in July. Before it had been a tri-fold card but after being plowed, mowed, baled, and twined, the code is regarded by most school teachers as worthless as a bale of hay. The biggest fault is the human one; there is no way under God’s sun that cookie-cutter solutions will ever be applied with any degree of success over the sprawling 576 square miles the county public schools serve in Southeast Tennessee.
Unbelievably, there are at least four former coaches on the nine-person school board who are experts in the art of handling kids and each will attest to the ball-field truth: No two kids are alike. In Soddy Daisy if a fourth grader gets in trouble at school, it will be worse once he gets home, but in Alton Park, the same fourth grader will be lucky to find the heat on in an empty house.
Nashville gave up on a standardized code when budget constraints foiled the doomed Passages experiment. Amy Frogge, a Nashville school board member, could have sent a recording of her remarks to Hamilton County. She’s gotten dozens of calls from principals and teachers – yes, this year – who say they are unable to handle discipline as a result of sudden policy changes. Help her sing this verse: “Many principals and teachers feel their hands are tied because they could not discipline certain students and had no resources to help them control the classrooms.”
So what did they do? In desperation, Nashville resorted to ‘punitive discipline’ and the liberals who love to write dreamy codes are incapable of understanding what happened: the overall suspension rate from last year has already jumped from 8.5 to 8.8 percent. “They went back to their old way of suspending.” As a Vanderbilt professor said as he scratched his head: “We have schools that are fundamentally different yet we have resources that are equally distributed?” Huh?
The Hamilton County School Board is going to do the exact same thing that was accomplished in a special, two-hour meeting on discipline and the lack of it last night.
That would be ‘nothing.’ People have gone blind, been committed, gotten married, milked a cow, cooked a full meal, and carved a pumpkin in less time. Lord help!