Wicomico schools to spend $1.6 million on discipline

The Board of Education’s plan to spend $1.6 million for discipline, safety and climate in schools is a good start, but the president of the teacher’s association said there isn’t enough evidence “of a very big change.”

Board of education members, at a work session this week, finalized the Fiscal Year 2017 budget and announced funding. In the discipline category, $343,201 was allocated, but no specific programs or plans to improve behavior were outlined.

“That money might be for walkie-talkies, video cameras, that kind of thing,” said Gary Hammer, president of the Wicomico County Education Association.

“I’m in favor of learning proper behavior in the building. We said that at the budget hearing. We were told there was money in the budget for walkie-talkies, for cameras.

“They are all good things to have in case a parent comes in for a discipline problem. You can say, ‘Hey, look. Your kid really did do this.’ But that is not enforcing the Code of Conduct. We cannot start this coming school year with the same discipline issues as last year because they will be worse,” Hammer said.

“We’re just breathing a sigh of relief that we didn’t have anything happen like happened in Wilmington, Del., where a girl was killed. That is everybody’s biggest fear,” he said.

Don Fitzgerald, president of the Wicomico County Board of Education, agreed.

“We are working on specifics. We haven’t finalized it, but there will be discipline intervention to help with issues,” he said.

“With the new superintendent coming in, I think there is going to be a different mindset. I’m certainly not saying anything against John (Fredericksen, current superintendent) but we’re going to start out early to get more intervention for some of the knuckleheads who need it,” he said.

Dr. Donna Hanlin will take over as superintendent next month, when Fredericksen retires.

WCTA members asked the school board, and Fredericksen, to strongly enforce the Code of Conduct early in the 2015-2016 school year, after some teachers said they were afraid to be in school buildings.

In January, a survey indicated 50 to 70 percent of teachers believed discipline problems were much worse than in previous years. About 800 teachers and educational staff members were surveyed by the WCEA.

Around 45 percent said the Code was being enforced much less than in previous years.

Forty percent stated staff and student safety was much less, 55 percent claimed student disrespect toward staff and administration was higher and 55 percent called student discipline “much worse.”

Hammer released survey results and asked for answers.

“At the start of the 2015 school year, it was very apparent that student conduct at all grade levels had changed dramatically,” Hammer wrote in  a news release.

Shift in code of conduct “seemed to stay unresolved and student behavior continued to deteriorate,” he wrote.

Not long afterward, Fredericksen, in a meeting with the Wicomico County Council, said that, overall, discipline and suspensions were the same, or had decreased.

He told the County Council if a student misbehaves in class, maybe by using his cell phone, it’s up to the teacher to discipline him, and not just immediately send him to the office. “In most instances, the teacher has a responsibility to intervene,” he said.

Council President John Cannon questioned that wisdom and said teachers shouldn’t have to take time away from lessons to “try to psychoanalyze that child who is disruptive.”

“Why not send that child to the office and let the teacher continue teaching?” Cannon said.

Hammer said Central Office personnel are directing schools “not to write things up or to write them up in a different way” because a lawsuit was filed against the school system claiming there were too many disciplinary referrals for minority children.

Later,  a committee on discipline was formed, but this week Hammer said Central Office employees make the agendas and there is little time for comment or questions during meetings.

“We had the fourth meeting. Any time anybody wants to start an open question session they are shut down and the meeting moves on. The superintendent is not on the committee. The directors of elementary and secondary education are facilitating it,” he said.

“I am not hopeful the task force will have time to make changes for the new school year. There is just not enough time. I feel the board, or Central Office, or somebody, is going to have to make a decision so we can have a non-disruptive environment in the schools and so students are safe and educators are safe,” Hammer said.

Other school board budget categories include:

  • $189,143 for three elementary school behavior intervention specialists, two due to the growing student population and special education program specialists, and two to support teachers and address behavior and unique disability needs.
  • $170,000 for one-on-one assistants required by special education for Individualized Education Plans.
  • $238,000 to contract with a provider to enhance local services to academic and emotionally challenged students.
  • $380,000 to facilitate the Choices program relocation.
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