Have the punishment fit the crime

Have the punishment fit the crime

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The discussion locally and nationally about potential suspensions for students who participated in the walkout March 14 has us thinking.

The issue with suspensions, we feel, is that it’s the wrong way to go about punishing a student for his or her wrongdoing, based on both context and merit.

Giving a student a day off from school for misbehaving or not completing his or her work doesn’t seem quite like a punishment. Even an in-school suspension doesn’t seem like an effective answer. Surely something more productive and positive can be born from an instance of student rule breaking. Community service or completion of acts of kindness in lieu of a day at home on the couch, for a student who talks poorly about another student or answers foully when speaking to a teacher or administrator seems more appropriate. Exercises that create more inclusion and less exclusion might have a more positive effect in the long run.

In situations when a student is violent, sending a message that it cannot be tolerated while also remaining under supervision of the school community, say, with additional counseling time or through a written
personal reflection about the ramifications of their behavior, would create better outcomes than a day at home playing video games or watching TV.

Schools are admittedly in a tough position in deciding how to handle punishments for students who used class time to make a statement on an issue they feel passionate about. More can be learned from, say, being
assigned to research and report about civil rights protests in the 1960s.

For the record, we are behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) sentiments regarding districts’ reactions to the March 14 walkout. Yes, it’s against school rules in all districts to walk out of school in the middle of the day, but students experiencing a moment in time of solidarity and turning it into action is something worthwhile that educators should seize on as an opportunity for learning, not vegetating with a day off.

“Peaceful expression of views on controversial issues that is not disruptive or threatening is a right that all students have in this country, and any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of student and faculty to free speech,” Cuomo said in a letter. “Threatening to discipline students for participating in the peaceful demonstrations is not only inappropriate, it is unconstitutional. Reports that schools may also discipline faculty are also highly concerning and would send a terrible message to our students.”

Reports by parents and students claim districts like Rocky Point, among others, were suspending kids for participating in the national event. We urge those districts to view this as an opportunity for a teachable moment. These are unique times requiring unique responses.