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Letting Douchebag kids ruin your class.

Who wrote that headline? There's no such thing as a bad kid. Except in those pesky Charter Schools that don't allow a few out-of-control little monsters to ruin the learning experience for everyone.

In most Charter schools, if you're a disruptive little prick, you are shown the door. Imagine that!

Schools Are Looking at All Alternatives to Avoid Suspending Students

Rather than punish children, schools are taking steps like asking students to reflect on their behavior and bringing in counselors before meetings with the principal

By Andrea Petersen, WSJ

Jan. 4, 2023 10:00 am ET

More schools and community groups are taking a less punitive, more collaborative approach to discipline as behavior problems rise among children and teens.

Some schools are reducing out-of-school suspensions in favor of in-school suspension days, adding sit-down talks with the principal and introducing written assignments reflecting how to change behavior. Other schools are bringing in counselors prior to meetings with the principal to help children calm down.

The moves partly stem from a growing consensus among many who work in education that disruptive behavior often reflects underlying mental-health issues such as anxiety, depression and trauma. Mental-health problems among children and teens surged during the pandemic, the result, psychologists say, of isolation, family stress and loss.

Principals and counselors say they believe that working with children to address deeper problems is more effective. In the past, they say, penalizing children by sending them home or delivering other punishments didn’t typically lead to better behavior. Still, new approaches can be harder for schools to implement, requiring more training and staff.

“For a lot of students, depression can look more like irritability, and students who have experienced post-traumatic stress are more likely to act out,” says Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Discipline changes like limiting suspensions and not sending disruptive children out of the classroom are seeing pushback from some teachers, says Dr. Hoover. It’s challenging to teach with a disruptive child in the classroom and, she says, many teachers are also feeling burned out from the stresses of teaching during the pandemic.

“It doesn’t feel good to say we’re sending the kids back to your class tomorrow and you just have to deal with it,” she says.

In addition, the new approaches are more labor-intensive and require sufficient mental-health staff and training and support for teachers, says Olivia Carter, a school counselor at Terry W. Kitchen Central Junior High in Cape Girardeau, Mo. At Ms. Carter’s school, counselors are coming in more often to help students calm down after misbehaving, she says. Counselors will take children for a walk, play soothing music or distract them with a chat about their favorite things before they meet with the principal.

The recent discipline changes are an acceleration of a shift over the past decade or so, partly to address concerns about racial inequity in how punishments are levied, says Dr. Hoover. Government data has shown that Black students are much more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than white children. Also these punishments can lead to higher dropout rates and lower academic achievement, scientific studies, including an analysis published in 2015 in the journal School Psychology Review, have shown.

Instead of changing the problematic behavior, suspensions and being sent to the principal’s office can make acting out more likely, says Jill Sharkey, a professor in the department of counseling, clinical and school psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. If misbehavior gets children out of doing work or gives them extra attention, kicking them out of class rewards that behavior, she says.

Mary Fulp, a high-school principal in Palmer, Alaska, says she’s seen a rise in behavior issues among students in the last couple of years, encompassing everything from children’s not being prepared for class and verbal spats to physical fights and drug use. Besides the loss and disruption teens experienced during the pandemic, Ms. Fulp also blames social media, including TikTok challenges that encourage children to vandalize bathrooms.

She was finding, however, that out-of-school suspensions weren’t changing children’s behavior. “Kids would come back angrier,” says Ms. Fulp, who works at Colony High School.

So this school year, Ms. Fulp added a day of in-school suspension, where students do their work in a separate room away from their classmates, to all out-of-school suspensions. She also cut the length of out-of-school suspensions. And all suspended students now complete a “restorative assignment” where they answer questions like “What is one thing uniquely wonderful about you?” and “What are you committed to doing as you go back to class after today?”

After Ethan Robins, a 16-year-old junior who goes by the name Parker, hit another Colony student who he said was making fun of him and his friends, he was given a day of in-school suspension. Parker said that talking to Ms. Fulp about what happened and then doing the restorative assignment made him reflect on his behavior and think about how he wanted to change.

“It definitely helped me learn. It felt like the school actually cared,” Parker said.

New approaches to discipline are happening outside schools, too. At Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley in Wisconsin, behavior-support staffers created cards for each child that detail information including “Least Favorite Activities” and “Things That Help the Youth Calm Down.” “Some young people may prefer to be left alone. Some look for connection” after an outburst, says Carlyn Andrew, the clubs’ senior director of counseling and training.

The cards program started as a pilot for “high-needs” children in 2020 and expanded to all children in the spring of 2022, says Ms. Andrew. Club employees have also received additional training on techniques to encourage good behavior, such as being specific about what they want the child to do. Instead of saying, “Stop yelling,” for example, employees are coached to say, “Use your talking voice.” Ms. Andrew says.

Aleshia Wiggs sends her two sons, ages 8 and 10, to the clubs in the summer and after school. She says her older son, Bradley, has sometimes yelled or pushed chairs when he doesn’t get something he wants or feels like he’s not being treated fairly.

Now, when Bradley gets upset, club staff encourage him to walk away from the situation and take some time by himself to calm down. Then he can go back to the group, talk out any issues, apologize if he needs to and move on. Bradley has also started therapy for anxiety.

Ms. Wiggs says Bradley is having fewer anger outbursts and is better able to talk about how he is feeling. In October, Bradley received the clubs’ “Youth of the Month” award for good behavior and other positive qualities.

Write to Andrea Petersen at

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