Valley Voices

Garry Bredefeld: Lay responsibility for children’s behavior at parents’ feet

Jake Harder, center, of the Mennonite Central Committee, serves as a mediator and John Swenning of the Reedley Peace Building Initiative, the coordinator during a restorative justice "victim panel" for a student offender at General Grant Middle School in Reedley. The student panel members participated to show how the offender hurt his school community and peers with his actions.
Jake Harder, center, of the Mennonite Central Committee, serves as a mediator and John Swenning of the Reedley Peace Building Initiative, the coordinator during a restorative justice "victim panel" for a student offender at General Grant Middle School in Reedley. The student panel members participated to show how the offender hurt his school community and peers with his actions. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The Bee’s Dec. 19 special section on “Discipline: balancing restorative justice with classroom safety” and Dec. 20 editorial on “Discipline is delicate balance for Fresno Unified” are both comprehensive and informative.

I agree that our schools need to do all they can to help students learn, assist in their social development and acquire the academic and cognitive skills to become self-sufficient and independent adults. But there are, unfortunately, some students who are not interested in learning or in interacting appropriately, and are overtly hostile, threatening, disruptive and intimidating to other students and their teachers.

It is clear that many well-intentioned state school officials, superintendents and administrators want to reduce the number of suspensions and provide alternative means to expelling the threatening or violent student. They have come up with “restorative justice,” which sounds innocuous enough.

They want to train teachers on how to handle the aggressive and threatening student, and assist that student in trying to understand how they have hurt others through “victim panels.”

Greater emphasis is now placed on the classroom teacher to deal with violent and aggressive students, as though they are not tasked with enough in trying to teach 25 to 30 students who are interested in learning and simply want to do so in a safe environment.

In an effort to reduce the number of students who are expelled because of their dangerous conduct, this behavior is being tolerated in schools and dealt with through these politically correct restorative justice programs.

And what is missing most glaringly from the discussion about what to do with aggressive, threatening and violent children are the parents. When did we go from parents being responsible for how their children behaved in school to passing that responsibility to the teacher and overall school system?

Today parents are not being held accountable for the conduct of their children. While we may know that many of these acting-out or troubled children are growing up in homes with one parent, may have parents who act out aggressively or are in trouble with the law themselves, or have other significant challenges, this should in no way serve as an excuse for their disruptive, aggressive or violent behavior in school.

Today, parents are not being held accountable for the conduct of their children. While we may know that many of these acting-out or troubled children are growing up in homes with one parent, may have parents who act out aggressively or are in trouble with the law themselves, or have other significant challenges, this should in no way serve as an excuse for their disruptive, aggressive or violent behavior in school.

Troubled kids should be offered all available resources through professional counseling and other social services to assist them. But it should be clear that no acting-out behavior will be tolerated in school, on school grounds, or, frankly, off of schools grounds, as well.

Without clear and firm consequences to inappropriate behavior, one learns such behavior will be tolerated. And that happens now when kids whose behavior warrants expulsion and suspension are not removed from the school, but instead are allowed to return and continue such behavior to varying degrees.

The ultimate responsibility to ensure a child’s behavior is appropriate, both in and out of school, are the parents. Somehow, through well-meaning but misguided programs such as restorative justice, that responsibility has shifted to the schools and teachers.

There should be a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive, threatening or violent behavior. When that behavior occurs, that child should be immediately suspended, placed in a continuation school and the burden of proof that the child is ready to return back to mainstream school should be on the parent and child.

In some strange way, restorative justice strikes me the same as Proposition 47, the ballot initiative that was passed two years ago. Proposition 47 reduces certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. For example, it’s now a misdemeanor instead of a felony when someone steals something of less than $950 value.

The consequence of this misguided effort to reduce crime by minimizing it has resulted in increased criminal behavior. Instead of being arrested, they now receive citations and still steal; they just stop when it is nearing $950 to avoid a felony.

Similarly, instead of having a zero tolerance for violence and threatening behavior, schools and, more specifically, teachers, are being tasked to deal with this behavior and adjust to it.

The Bee editorial is exactly right when it noted that without “safe campuses and positive classroom learning environments,” families with the resources and means will flee to other school districts and private schools. This “flight” to safer schools where the emphasis is on learning with zero tolerance for disruptive behavior has been happening for some time.

The success of our students and the reputation of FUSD are directly linked to how the city of Fresno is perceived and have a direct impact on our quality of life and economic climate. To meet this critical challenge, our sole focus should be on ensuring that our schools are safe for all students and teachers.

Our superintendent and administrators must provide quality education curricula and programs so that upon graduation, our children are ready for employment and/or higher education. Teachers should be primarily tasked with educating our children, given the resources to do so, and implementing those curricula and programs.

If a child is struggling academically, all efforts and resources should be available and used to assist that child. But if there is a child who is not interested in learning, and instead engages in hostile, threatening or violent behavior, he or she needs to be immediately removed from that school environment.

The responsibility for that child and ensuring they make the changes needed to return to that school belongs with his or her parents, not the school district. Suspension and expulsion are very serious, but to address the problem, we must first recognize who has the primary responsibility to fix it.

That starts and ends with the parents.

Dr. Garry Bredefeld is a clinical psychologist who works at the Fresno Veterans Affairs Hospital and maintains a private practice in Fresno. He is a former Fresno City Council member and now is a candidate to regain his seat in District 6.

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