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Vexed By “Room Clearing” In Oregon Schools

It’s a real head-scratcher, I must say.

Now, I wouldn’t assert that my experience in school was a shining example of “the right way” to handle disruptive classroom behavior.  What I can say is – it was an effective way, considering why we were all there.

First of all, I’ll inform you, I am a millennial.  I am the oldest of them, but, sure enough, I’m part of that generation…so insert “snowflake” jokes here.

However, when me and folks my age came up through school in my Midwest U.S. town, you did not disrupt class.  It was something you simply “did not do”.  There are a great many things which contributed to that mindset (self discipline and a sense of respect among them), but none more than a primal fear of the consequences.

Kids who acted up in class – got a ruler to the ass in front of everyone (yep that still happened in my day) or they got hauled off to the principal’s office crying and everything.

Fear worked…no doubt about it.

It was still very simple in the 90’s – at least in my hometown.

Some would say it was “a bit much”, I suppose, but I can say, with confidence, that, in my life, I benefited from an excellent primary and secondary education.  These were public schools, mind you.  And I would assert the disciplinary and educational tactics used on disruptive students in my upbringing – is partly why my education was of such high quality.

Again – I’m not saying it was “right” per se.  I’m just saying it was effective.

It’s also very important to note that my school district committed a considerable amount of time and resources toward “special needs” programs for students who exhibited a tendency to be disruptive or who had learning disabilities.

Patient (angels) teachers who were silver tongued, damn near ruthless negotiators – were hired to communicate with these unique young minds, ensuring they had the best shot at getting from school – what they were there for.

Now, I can’t say I know how that worked out for those special needs students, I was entirely separated from them, I haven’t kept in touch with them, but what I do know is they didn’t seem to be miserable at school…and most of the rest of us didn’t ever want to give them a hard time.

Since these special needs students were separated from me, perhaps I missed out on some important social skill developments as a result, maybe they did too – but – I guess no one in my world ever saw “proper socialization” across the behavioral spectrum as a top priority in school.  Our job at school was to fill our brains with as much information as we could. 

The “friend stuff” and the “socialization stuff” was just a nice benefit on the side and you did your best with the opportunities you had.

Besides – I can confidently assert – the more you learn (at school or otherwise) – the more you know – the more you can talk about – the more you can relate to people – the more you can understand – the more you can reason, etc, etc, etc.

Now, I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what kind of anguish, outrage, and/or concern would have come with knowing my kid got his ear or arm twisted by a teacher or administrator at school.  I don’t know what I would have felt if I were told my child needed “special programs”.  I don’t know.

I want to believe I would have kept a level head – maintained perspective – and rolled with the punches.  But I don’t know.  I suppose I’ll leave that thought as is…I’m not a parent.

But I’ve learned about what has evolved with classroom discipline in Oregon schools, and I must admit, I’m rather baffled by it.  Not upset really – just stunned, like getting punched in the face.  So I’m just beginning to try and wrap my head around it.  Again, I’m still relatively new here.

The way I understand it is, since 2011, Oregon teachers and school staff have been told they can’t lay hands on kids or exercise “use of force” – really at all.  Ok – fine.  

I’ve also learned that when a student becomes too disruptive in class, many Oregon school administrators and teachers have decided it’s best to take all the other students out of the classroom – and then try to calm the disruptive student down so class might resume.

Now – first – I’ll say I want very badly to talk to someone who can explain to me how this is not a policy of desperation.  Primarily, I just want to impart to you how discouraging it is for me to hear the real impact this policy has had in some instances. 

As I’ve talked to friends about this subject here in Portland, I’ve learned these circumstances, where repeated “room clearing” occurs, can – and do – completely ruin some students’ ability to learn anything.

A student can go to a class for an entire year, have these “room clearing” episodes occur with such frequency that the student walks away, kind of shrugging their shoulders, knowing almost nothing more than they did 12 months prior.

I think everyone can agree – that is a problem.  Unless you don’t buy into public education, I guess.  That’s another issue entirely.

Anyway.

Oregon lawmakers have just recently passed a measure called SB 963.  It seeks to clarify the “boundaries” in these tense situations with disruptive students. 

There are plenty of people who call that a good start.  I suppose it’s hard to disagree with that, but – I had an enlightening conversation with an expert in public education leadership and policy.

Patrick Burke is an associate professor at PSU. 

He says this new law isn’t likely to curb the problem of “room clearing” unless schools train all staff members – or perhaps – certain select staff members on exactly what actions can and can’t be taken – toward disruptive students.

Training takes time and money, which I know to be in short supply for many many districts, but the approach I just mentioned is what Burke says all Oregon schools would be well advised to go with.

When one or two students can completely ruin 5 or even 10 other students’ ability to be students, something’s gotta give, right?  Some kind of sacrifice has to be made for the sake of the learning environment.

Kids learning almost nothing can’t be acceptable.

If nurturing effective socialization across the behavioral spectrum needs some work, recess, lunch, field trips, after school clubs, sporting events…they all seem like reasonable opportunities to me.

It’s a big issue, with lots of other moving parts, but I certainly hope schools in Oregon are able to develop training criteria for staff members so they can handle disruptive situations with grace and efficiency.

It’s safe to say class time – learning time – is so precious and so important.  I’d say it’s worth making it the top priority at school, but I guess I could be wrong.


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