15 November 2008
My younger son J goes to a nearby Junior High labeled as a School of Choice. It's called that because it offers the mainstream curriculum as well as several sports programs. The sports programs have the same core subjects as the mainstream but fewer options. Instead they practice whatever sport in the afternoon. And yes, the sport programs cost extra, the mainstream is free. J is in one of the sports programs.
Anyway, I got a call from the school saying J decided to go home early instead of reporting back to the gym after a brief sport field trip. The instructions were to go and change if necessary, get your backpacks and meet in the gym until dismissal at 3:05pm. Well. J went to the changing room, saw the clock said 3:05pm and left. Typical of J to see what he wanted in the rules (dismissal at 3:05) instead of the intent (teacher controls dismissal regardless of what time the clock says). I know my son enough to know that if the teacher had omitted the dismissal time and instead told the students to return to the gym, J would have returned to the gym. But he saw a loophole and took it. The school, predictably, didn't agree with J's choice of how to hear the instructions. The call I received was from the program director asking if it was ok to put J in their version of a detention for all of Monday afternoon instead of going to his sport program as a consequence to not following the rule. Huh. The school actually felt like they needed my permission to have my son miss class as a result of misbehaviour. And the program director wanted me to talk to J about his poor choice.
Well now. I said that I would, indeed, discuss the issue with my son and absolutely he can go to the DT. The PD was surprised and said it was refreshing having a parent on the same side as the school. He went on to say that many parents object to their children missing class because of the extra fees involved (you know, gotta get your money's worth and all). I find it disappointing that the school needs my permission to discipline my child for behaviour exhibited in school or on school property. Really, I'm one of those parents that believes that as long as it's during school hours, the school is responsible for appropriate discipline. I sign a form at the start of the school year that outlines what is considered an offense and what the probable discipline will be. And yet they still needed to call me.
I did talk to J and remind him that because it's a School of Choice I can have him removed and put in the mainstream program. I can also have him removed from the school completely and set him up in the catchment school for our area. I also pointed out that he is the one in control of that choice, if his behaviour continues to suck he will be removed. If he straightens up and follows the rules (however irrelevant they may seem) then he can stay.
But when did teachers and schools become afraid of discipline? What was the turning point? Why do parents get to decide if the misconduct results in reprimand? Isn't that part of the school's job? As a friend said to me once, "I don't call the school and tell the teacher to take away recess because he wouldn't go to bed, don't call me and tell me to discipline him for something that happened at school".
So as well as assuring the PD that I would talk to J, I told them that part of the secret of J is that punishment needs to be swift and appropriate. I agreed that I needed to realign J's moral compass a bit, but that I am distanced from the problem. It happened at school, not home, and it is now going to be an hour or so from the incident. The school also informed me of minor problems with J, like not listening, goofing off and not being safe. I told the PD that the school has full authority to remove J from the program for the day/class after only one warning from the teacher. If the teacher keeps saying "that's enough, J" with no followthrough, then J will just prey on the teacher and distract the class to no end. I told him a battle is pointless with J, simply give him one warning and make him sit out after that. He will eventually get tired of not participating and misbehave less.
I have to admit I am pleased with the communication from the school (for today's incident of leaving early I received an email, an automated phone call and a personal call from the program director). At the same time I'm disappointed that I needed to verbally agree to the discipline plan that I already agreed to in writing.
I know it's my job as a parent to make sure my children are raised with a good moral core and healthy ethics. I also believe it is the school's job to stand up for what they have set as a guideline for behaviour. If I don't agree with the school's discipline/consequence plan then I can choose to send my son to a different school (the city I'm in doesn't limit children to what school they can attend. We have open boundaries and can choose any school in the public system, but if you apply too late you may not get a spot in that school. There are still catchment schools for your area, these schools cannot refuse you if you live within the boundaries). If I do agree then I need to accept it when the school dishes out the punishment. I find there is something horribly wrong with a system where the school needs to ask permission from the parent to discipline behaviour.
In my opinion, the discipline plan should be universal and clear. Every child has the same consequence to the same behaviour issue instead of allowing a child to not be punished because mommy said no.