This Op-Ed appeared in the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper on July 19, 2023.
On July 11th, at the regular meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education, a discipline advisory committee of six teachers and one community member reported their findings about what effective discipline looks like, how to combat chronically disruptive classroom behavior and what causes this problem in Jefferson County schools.
Mary Reagan, a Blue Ridge Elementary School kindergarten teacher of 29 years said
“I am here to tell you, we are losing teachers as well as students. But this is why we’ve got such a teacher shortage….When you look at some of the things in like, say the policy, we really felt like, we have to be more consistent. Here are the laws in place, here’s what the consequences are. These principals need to follow them, period.”
In response, Board of Education Member Donna Joy, a former Jefferson High School teacher, said “It was long before COVID, it’s been dwindling for years. and from my perspective when the state scorecard gives you points, or a letter if you exaggerate, boost, graduation rates and if you can increase attendance, increase achievement, and lower discipline. So for many years…these students were pushed through. They did not deserve to graduate because they didn’t even show up. So that, from my perspective was done to boost those numbers. ….I agree that administration does not generally follow through equally….if that person knows that child’s parent, well, you can forget it. And I have never ever gotten a response as to any kind of discipline that was administered to a child no matter what they did.”
West Virginia Board of Education policy 4373 was extensively referred to during the committee’s report, as it sets out the clear statewide guidelines for school discipline. House Bill 2890 was also referenced, which became effective June 9, 2023.
Most concerning was that students do not feel safe at school. Ms. Reagan shared that, among 15 to 21 year old students from Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties who were in her 4H camp discussion class group “every single one of those children, in that class one of those campers in that class, one of those campers in that class said that they did not feel safe in their school….. It is unacceptable…..We have to stop torturing our good children that are in these schools because they are not feeling safe….Enough is enough. We have to stop the behaviors and teach, here’s what we expect. If you don’t, here are these consequences. You have to be held accountable for your actions.”
It is not a right of children with behavioral issues to torture other children. According to West Virginal school and legislative regulations, these students can be excluded from the classroom and consequences can be administered. However, this is generally not happening now. The Jefferson County Board of Education should make it an utmost priority to make sure that a safe environment is provided at all Jefferson County Public Schools. Following the advice of the discipline advisory committee will go a long way in achieving this goal. The teachers and citizen on the discipline advisory committee deserve a lot of respect for taking the time and making the effort to work on this report.
Furthermore, thought should be given and actions taken to change the long term outlook for our children. Right now 47 percent of children in West Virginia are born outside of marriage. It is a fact that even in high crime inner city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children who grow up in safe, stable two-parent homes do not become delinquents.
Creating policies that will help in breaking the generational cycle of outside of wedlock birth is a step that will be necessary for the long term solution to school discipline problems. One of these policies should be setting the expectation that sexual abstinence is the expected standard for school age youth.
Not only will this help in the long term, but also in the short term.
Young teens who are abstaining are much less likely to use alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana, run away from home, be arrested and are seven times less likely to be suspended from school. Young teen girls who are abstinent are also six times less likely to attempt suicide.
Jefferson County Schools need to set high expectations for behavior. This includes not only rules regarding appropriate classroom and school conduct, but also the expectation of sexual abstinence for all school age youth.
Parents concerned about improving the environment in public schools and helping our children to succeed are invited to join the Strengthening Families and Communities Forum on July 22nd, 2023 in Harpers Ferry. The topic is “Stopping the Sexualization of Children in Public Schools; Providing a Positive Alternative.” The premise is that we need to break the generational cycle of outside of wedlock birth through a revolution of abstinence-centered education. Featured speakers are Father Bayo B. Adrien, Rev. Becky Basford, Commissioner Jennifer Krouse and Richard Urban. Register and get more information at visionroot.org.