Letter to the Editor

Opining about new disciplinary program

Sunday, November 1, 2009

To the Editor:

The days of the three-day "vacation" from school appear to be over.

Even 30 years ago, there were students who strived to be suspended from school for three days off.

One of the infractions that would result in suspension was and is to be excessively absent from school. The disciplinary action of suspending a student for absenteeism has always appeared to be more of a reward than a punishment.

My concern is that by charging $15 per day for each day of suspension, the C.O.P.E. program will probably financially hurt the families that can least afford to invest in education or even supervision of their children.

The questions must be asked. How many of the students that have been identified as being "at-risk" of failing to complete their education? How many of them reside in one-parent homes? How many live in one-parent homes where the parent is employed, but the student qualifies for free lunches? How many of the students in each of these categories who have been suspended have siblings?

I have requested data on these questions from the school corporation, but at the time of this writing, I have not received it. I have little doubt that the data will indicate that most students that are suspended are students who have the highest risk of dropping out of school and living a life in poverty.

I did receive a response from one member of the school board stating that there might be alternative funding available for those in financial need but no definite answer that there was. In my opinion, it would be more advantageous if the suspended student could participate in more community service on weekends to compensate for the cost of the program in labor instead of charging the family a fee. With several entities that are involved with the program, a person must ask what the final cost of one suspension is before it can be determined how much labor would pay for it.

It looks, on paper, that the C.O.P.E. program is effective from a middle-class point of view. From the point of view near the poverty level, it looks like we are taking food off the table. Understandably, it is due to the activities of one member of that particular family. However, it will affect every member of that family.

In our community, there are many families where there is little that the parent can do about the situation. They must work to support the family and leave the children either alone or in the care of the very student who is suspended from school.

Our society has changed to the point where a parent has few ways of influencing the actions of their child and many children who do not have much to begin with simply do not care. I am not advocating anyone's use of corporal punishment, but I want people to understand that parents who cannot give their children anything beyond the necessities have nothing to restrict the child from doing to modify the child's behavior except to assign the child tasks to do.

The child can always reject that option.

I have had to deal with children who expected nothing out of life and took whatever was available at the moment as the best that could be expected when attempting to help foster children. A parent of an incompliant child has few disciplinary options by which to attempt behavior modification when the child has nothing and expects nothing.

I agree that the C.O.P.E. program appears to have made a positive impact on school discipline if you look at just the number of suspensions. However, the unintended consequences of taking money out of the pockets of people who, simply cannot afford to pay $45 for a three-day suspension without depriving their children of basic needs may well negate the positive impact in future years.

By reducing the expectations of the children who are nearest the poverty line even further, the C.O.P.E. program, as it is if my suspicions are correct, may well influence more children to drop out of school.

Leo Southworth,