When Disruptive Students Are Coddled, the Whole Class Suffers

December 1, 2019 in News by RBN Staff

source: quillette.com
written by Max Eden

Last month, NBC Nightly News aired a segment on the latest classroom-management technique to sweep America’s schools: “room clears”: When a child throws a tantrum that could physically endanger his peers, teachers evacuate all of the other students from the classroom until the troublemaker has vented his rage upon empty desks, tables and chairs. The technique was virtually unheard of five years ago. But 56 percent of surveyed teachers and parents in Oregon now report having experienced a room clear in their or their child’s classroom over the last year.

Surrendering the classroom to a single student: The average reader might well ask why anyone thinks this would be a good idea. Yet the policies that make this approach inevitable have been applauded by a wide range of authorities, from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Trump-administration’s Department of Education.

The emergence of room clears is a product of several fashionable education-policy trends designed to protect the rights of troubled students, often with little regard for the rights of their classmates. These include the provisions contained in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates that special-education students be subject to the “least restrictive environment” possible. When it comes to students who are hard of hearing, dyslexic or developmentally delayed, this policy likely has done a great deal of good. But many schools also label disruptive or violent students as having an “Emotional and Behavioral Disability” (EBD). Rather than provide these students specialized attention in separate settings, schools often funnel them into traditional classrooms.

In a national poll, two thirds of surveyed teachers at high-poverty schools reported that there is a student in their classroom who they believed shouldn’t be there; and 77 percent of surveyed teachers report that a small number of disruptive students cause other students to suffer. Unfortunately, IDEA’s provisions don’t adequately account for the rights and interests of general-education students, and teachers typically have little say over who is in their classroom.

Once they are assigned to a traditional class, EBD students can become virtually untouchable as far as discipline goes. Schools are discouraged by federal policy and activist groups alike from disproportionately disciplining students with disabilities—the effect of which is that principals are required to overlook many otherwise unacceptable transgressions. (Two thirds of teachers say that special-education students are treated more leniently than general-education students for the same offenses.) The worst-behaved students effectively are taught that the rules don’t apply to them in the same way they apply to others. Even when misbehavior edges toward violence, EBD students are becoming physically untouchable.