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Commentary: Improving student behavior services

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Recently, Oklahoma City School Board member Bob Hammack criticized the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for “purporting to show ‘anonymous’ negative comments from teachers” regarding student behavior and discipline.

Mr. Hammack was dismissive of the 836 teachers who responded to an AFT survey with the large majority reporting serious problems with student behavior. Since other teachers did not respond to the survey, it was proof, according to him, that teachers not responding believed the AFT was engaging in an “effort to slow down or abate needed changes.”

Illogical or misinformed statements by some district leaders are a common experience for teachers in our school system. Since teacher opinions are routinely dismissed, it should not be surprising that morale is low and frustration high.

No one should equate a flurry of activity by the district as proof we are on the right track to improving student behavior. New programs and endless pronouncements should not give anyone with knowledge of our district a sense that anything is improving.

Oklahoma City teachers want classrooms free from chronic misbehavior.  Parents, students and teachers want safe and orderly schools. AFT is not calling for more suspensions. We are advocating for appropriate help and services for those who chronically misbehave, and in many cases, that help will need to be provided somewhere other than the regular classroom setting.

Let’s commit to solutions that will help resolve this urgent problem:

1. The district and AFT must finalize work on a new student code of conduct. Sustained growth in student achievement will not occur without adherence to the new code. The superintendent should pledge that safe and orderly schools are his No. 1 priority.

2. The newly created Office of School Climate and Student Discipline should be properly staffed. Currently, three employees are charged with overseeing discipline, training teachers and providing student intervention services for those who chronically misbehave. Most administrators and teachers agree that we have in excess of 1000 students in need of services.

3. Create a strong districtwide in-school suspension program that addresses the needs of the chronically disruptive.

Dismissing and blaming others is not a solution. I renew my invitation to the superintendent to engage in discussions.

Ed Allen is president of Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, the bargaining representative for Oklahoma City teachers.

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