Teachers, parents call for heightened discipline in schools

Syracuse public school teachers and parents are fed up with a disciplinary system they say is failing every student and one local advocacy group wants to change that. Started by parents, educators and staff members in the Syracuse city school district, 'Be the Change' advocates are calling for chronically disruptive students to be removed from classrooms and placed in alternate programs. They say a different setting would more adequately address their learning, social and emotional needs, while allowing teachers to spend more classroom time teaching instead of dealing with disruptive behavior. "Our intent is to get away from just suspending kids from school," said Deb Adler, a third-grade special education teacher at Dr. Weeks Elementary School. "Instead of sending them home, where they're not getting their education, we want them to be in the school setting. But some children need a different setting. They need a smaller classroom. They need more intensive supports academically, behaviorally." "We're not saying that they're bad kids by any stretch of the imagination," added 'Be the Change' organizer and parent Heidi Teska. "We're saying that they need help in learning anger replacement and how to behave in an appropriate way in a classroom so that they're safe, their peers are safe and their teachers are safe." In a meeting tonight at Temple Adath Yeshurun, almost 100 teachers and parents gathered to discuss what they say is a behavioral epidemic in local schools at every grade level. Teachers revealed first-hand accounts of students physically, verbally and sexually assaulting other students and teachers alike. Teachers also expressed concerns that reports to administration aren't being acted upon or even recorded. Many said that their administrators have actually discouraged them from filing such reports. "We have kids as young as kindergarten who are acting violently towards their teachers," said Teska. "I've heard stories of kindergarteners putting their teachers out on workers' comp." Some educators fear that the escalation in deplorable behavior is causing some families to simply move out of the Syracuse city school district. "We really would love for them to stay so I think we need to do a better job," said Adler. While alternate learning programs are already in place at the middle school and high school-level, advocates want to see these programs expanded to younger learners. Elementary teachers say they've noticed a marked rise over the last eight years in challenging and violent behavior at the primary level. Critics say separating students from their classrooms would only serve to isolate or "warehouse" children from their peers. They fear that separation will create disparity between the education that these students and their peers receive. But 'Be the Change' hopes to put kids in alternate programs, not necessarily alternate locations. "It's a tough balance," said Teska. "We don't want to 'warehouse' kids. We're not advocating for the 'warehousing' of any children at all. What we want is to put those kids in a situation where they can get the best education that they can with always the goal being to return them to their classroom setting. When they return they'll have those tools in their toolbox that they need to be successful and become kids who achieve. "All these kids have amazing potential. They all have the potential to be whatever they want to be. We just want to see them be successful."