Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Regulations Can't Replace Judgement

Looks like I retired just in time. If I hadn’t decided to leave public education in 2011, Chapter 33 would have been the final straw. This Maine State law mandates that unruly students cannot be forcibly removed from the classroom. Basically, nobody can touch a student when he or she is disrupting a class “unless a teacher or student is in ‘imminent danger’ of harm,” according to a February 20th story in the Portland Press Herald.

Incredulous, I listened last fall to an acquaintance who is an elementary school teacher as she told me about her difficulties with Chapter 33. When a student disrupted her class she could ask him to behave, and if he didn’t she could tell him to go to the principal’s office. When he refused, she couldn’t force him to leave the classroom and neither could anyone else unless he or she had been specially trained to do so. Leave it to government to determine what special training is required to handle an unruly child, right? At that point, a specially-trained staff person removing a student would be “triggering a restraint situation that must be documented with extensive written reports,” according to the article.
When school law says “extensive written reports,” think truckloads in triplicate. If experience is any guide, there would follow endless meetings involving paid advocates and attorneys as well, all paid for by taxpayers.
Several times the teacher had to remove all the other students from her classroom and leave the disruptive student alone there. Evidently this had become rather common throughout the state, prompting Senator Tom Saviello of Wilton, Maine to introduce a bill that would loosen the restraint rule. But the usual suspects - the ACLU and a disability rights group - opposed Saviello’s bill and wanted to keep Chapter 33 intact.
“Our teachers are now telling me students are losing valuable instruction time when an out-of-control student refuses to leave a classroom,” said Mount Blue Regional School District Superintendent Mike Cormier. “Children who witness this acting-out do not feel safe. They wonder why the grown-ups aren't doing anything about it or intervening. Schools feel chaotic and unpredictable.”
Early in my career I taught juvenile delinquents aged 14-18 in Lowell, Massachusetts at a private day school who had just been reclassified “emotionally disturbed” by the then-new federal special ed law. If one of them refused to leave class after being told to, teachers could use the necessary force to remove a him/her from the classroom. No student, however, ever got hurt during my two years there even though "necessary force" was used at least weekly.
After moving to Maine and teaching in the regular classroom, occasions when I had to physically remove a disruptive student were rare, but still necessary on occasion. In my briefcase I kept a copy of Maine state law as it existed then - which authorized a teacher to use the necessary force to remove a disruptive student who refused verbal instructions. Several times or so I took out the law and read it to a student who refused to leave. Then I’d say, “If you don’t go by the time I count to three, I’ll remove you.” They almost always left by the count of two because I wasn’t bluffing and they knew it.
Clearly, Rule 33 takes control away from the teacher and gives it to the disruptive student. Anyone who couldn’t see that coming didn’t understand classroom dynamics, so it couldn’t have been written by actual teachers. It was inevitable that there would be pushback from genuine teachers - and that happened last February, just a few months into the first year the foolish rule went into effect. Seventy-five people packed a hearing room, most of them classroom

teachers.
After a few weeks, the backlash had some effect as the Press Herald reported March 6th: “The compromise language, explained Wednesday to the Education Committee, carves out an exception for "physical escort." That standard would allow temporary touching to "induce" a student to walk to another room without triggering the definition of the more serious "restraint," an action that requires extensive documentation and follow-up.”
Will the compromise hold up? I doubt it. Lawsuits and threats of lawsuits will inevitably follow the new laws, all very expensive and tying up staff time that would be better spent actually teaching. Respect for teachers and their judgements in such matters has declined and multitudinous regulations are a poor substitute. So it goes in big-government schools where budgets and bureaucracy and regulations continue to grow while common sense, old-fashioned values and the good judgment we used to rely upon are increasingly ignored.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Rhonda said...

I have a three year old grandson whose mother doesn't believe in spanking. She thinks I was a terrible mother because I spanked her. Mind you, I was never abusive, and there is certainly a difference between a pop on the butt and abuse. This little boy is a brat. When he is told to do something he doesn't want to do, he says defiantly "NO!". What will happen when he reaches puberty and that awful rebellious stage? He won't have any fear of adults, because his "time out" was upstairs in his room where he played with his toys. I'm afraid he will end up like these disrespectful disgraceful kids in your article.

I think these kids who are being disruptive in class should have their parents called in to take them home. Parents need to accept the blame for not raising their children to be respectful to adults and to the other kids in the class. Can't get the parents to come get them out? Call the security guard or the cops.

4/4/13, 5:51 PM  

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