In my school, the word “handcuffs” have forever been replaced in my mind with the word “bracelets”. It started during last year’s school year. A year, by the way, that saw almost fifty arrests between the months of October and June. It was a year plagued by violence and extremely low PSSA scores. The school where I work was one of the most violent in a very violent city. To make matters worse, our state test scores were some of the lowest in the state.
Clearly, our school needed leadership. It was something our former principal promised when she took the job. But, she never delivered. Instead, she made sure her friends were taken care of – and she left the rest of us to drown in our classrooms amidst swirling rumors of a state take-over of our school. While the rest of us fretted about our futures, she was busy getting another job.
During this time, the number of violence incidents taking place in our school was sky-rocketing. So, the district appointed a sergeant in the school-police to be permanently assigned to our building. From the time he entered the building, until the time he left, he cleared a fairly wide path of righteous justice wherever he walked.
If a student got out of line, he would “Slip on the bracelets.” When we heard that, we knew the student was under arrest for disorderly conduct. The local police were contacted (sometimes three times a day) and a cruiser come over and took the student to the local headquarters where a parent or guardian would have to come and get them. I think it is important to note here that the students I teach are only around twelve to fourteen years of age.
This year, that school-officer has been assigned to another building and our budget has been cut. We don’t have nearly as many adults working our hallways, this year. Although things have been better, you can feel the atmosphere slowly building towards “event”. All it takes is one incident to open the floodgates and the building can turn in an instant. You can almost sense the worst students in the building slowly measuring us – waiting for the right opportunity.
Earlier this week, a student I teach was arrested. The student deserved it. This particular student has become a source of constant menace in my classroom and a few others. The student tries to intimidate female teachers and he verbally abuses male and female staff-members. When this student is present (which is every day) it is almost impossible to teach. Whenever this student enters the room, you can count on complete disruption. You can only hope to contain this student – because there is no stopping the behavior. I have taught this particular child for three years. And for those three years, he has been building towards this moment. Almost nothing has been done to remove this student from our school community. I fear that it is literally going to take a violent incident.
The sadder part still is that when I approach support staff to do something about this student, I am asked, “What did you do about their behavior?”
Well, let’s see. I told you about the behavior several times. I documented it. I tried to contact a parent, but the phone numbers I was given didn’t work. Then, in the interim, I spent my time teaching classes.
You know, actually teaching.
Eventually, the behavior spirals out of control and the student is arrested. Then, you get the indignity of hearing that the student should not have been arrested for his behavior. Really? Telling school security to “fuck off” and resisting with physical violence and threats doesn’t warrant being arrested? Finally, after weeks of similar behavior that seemingly went unpunished and virtually ignored – the student gets arrested.
Frankly, everyone associated with this child breathed a sigh of relief. We can actually teach for a few days. Even his classmates were glad he was out of their hair. One of the children told me about the arrest and she said she was happy because, “Now, I can learn something. And, my class is constantly getting ‘held-up’ by his crap.”
Day-in and day-out, I watched this student go in and out of classrooms disrupting teachers and making instruction impossible. I watched this student sit in the back of my classroom and lie to my vice-principal during an informal observation – telling the administrator that (the student) was unaware of any assignment he was given for that class period. Knowing the student’s history, the vice-principal took the student’s word over mine.
This par for the course here. A week after the student lied to my vice-principal’s face, this particular student threatens a staff-member with violence and leaves the building “with the bracelets on”. He will return to our building, next week.
I guess my question is, “Why?”
Why is a student allowed to return to a building after threatening staff, resisting arrest and verbally abusing anyone within earshot?
Can someone tell me?
This student wasn’t just having a “bad day”. This is a constant pattern of behavior that is worsening. It gets worse because this student has almost never been made accountable in any way as “end-game” as this. This child doesn’t need a hug, at this point. This is bigger than that.
As I said when I started, I don’t really come to preach. I don’t come to offer solutions.
I have come to tell a story.