by Tribu

December 11, 2020

Teacher

“CODE 21! Code 21!” is the most used disciplinary action code on a DAEP (Discipline Alternative Education Program) campus. Code 21 is defined as a violation of the local student code of conduct. In the state of Texas, TEA (Texas Education Agency) collects data through the Public Education Information Management Systems (PEIMS), and in the 2018-2019 annual discipline report at the state level 33, 859 code 21 violations for DAEP campuses were recorded.  If you take the time to research deeper into the actual referrals written, what you will find is that most of the referral violations are for simple infractions like persistent misbehavior or violation of the campus dress code.

This reminds me of a recent conversation that I had on my campus. Someone on asked me, “what is your take on colorful socks?  I replied, “What do you mean?”  Then they stated, “The campus expectation is that students wear black, gray, or white socks only. Will that stay the same this year or change? Because if it’s not a big deal to you then we should just take it out of the dress code policy altogether.  If you are not going to enforce the rule with a consequence, then it should not be a part of the rules.” 

So my thought process was—it has come down to this: a student should lose points for the day or be sent to ISS (in-school suspension) because he has a Nike logo on his/her socks or the white socks have a red, blue, green, pink, or yellow stripe on it? Really, a consequence for colorful socks? 

When are we going to put students at the center of opportunities, instead of at the center of discipline? Dress Codes are causing students to lose hundreds of instructional minutes in DAEP campuses all across the state of Texas, not criminal mischief, not terroristic threats, not assault but a violation of the student code of conduct. 

Here is the issue: the dress code policy for visitors seeing an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ’s) is almost an exact mirror image when compare to the dress code policy used on DAEP campuses.  If your policy structure has been formulate from a punitive lens, how can you put students at the center of opportunities? 

Here is a question to help build a foundation: what is more important—a student showing up every day with an opportunity for educators to touch their lives, in a positive way or to enforce what color socks, shoes, or belt a student is wearing?  Believe it or not, something as simple as the colorful Nike check on a student sock will trigger a power struggle between an adult and a student.  

Yes, the student knew he/she shouldn’t have the color logo on their socks, but they have deeper rooted issues than socks.  I believe there are deeper rooted issues in the educational systems today, especially on DAEP campuses.  One of the deeper rooted issues can be summed up in one word, ‘perspective.’  

Perspective can be defined as a person’s own view point, personal mindset, or attitude towards someone, something, or your attitude towards a situation.  Simply put, “the way you see someone, something, or a situation is the way you treat it.”  Let’s use a DAEP classroom teacher for example—a new to district student arrives on a DAEP campus and his discipline record communicates he has been in and out of the DAEP campus, he has enrolled and withdrawn from several schools, and he has failed a few state assessments. When we receive this information before we actually meet the student, a perspective begins to form a view point and an idea about the student.  The reality is, that our perspective about the student influences our ideas, attitude, and actions towards the students. 

As educators, we have to be careful not to form preconceived perspectives about students; because the way you see a child is the way you treat that child.  If you see a child as trouble, then you treat a child as trouble.  If you see a child as if they can’t do it, then you treat them as if they can’t do it. If our students are at the center of discipline then our actions are centered on discipline; but if our students are centered on opportunities, then our actions will be center on opportunities. Perspective is powerful! 

We spend more time putting student out of the classroom or sending them to the main office for minor infractions.  Often times in education, we major in the minors, enforcing minor infractions like a student wearing the wrong color socks, shoes, or belts instead of focusing first on what is best for students. 

As a current principal of a DAEP campus, I believe that my twenty-two years of experience in education has prepared me for such a time as this.  A time, where being safe requires social distancing. A time, where physical classroom connections have been redesigned into virtual connections.  Now, is the time, to put students at the center of opportunities instead of at the center of discipline! 

How can we make this paradigm shift in our educational practices? By putting relationships first. I have learned that putting relationships at the center of all learning is the key to students’ success.  By putting relationships at the center of all learning creates opportunities for human connection, creates opportunities for safe environments, and creates opportunities to address social and emotional needs.

Let’s build campuses on a solid foundation of relationships. Where every staff member will consciously be aware of their own implicit biases and intentionally practice seeing students as students, no matter what the offense was, no matter how many times they have returned to the DAEP—every student receives a fresh start.  A campus where we model and coach every staff member on how to center themselves in any situation, using the six proactive restorative tools—like the 60 Second Relate Break, the 90 Second Spark, and the 2 Minute Connection. Ensuring that all adults respond in an equitable way with a focus on valuing the relationship with the individual or individuals involved.  

A campus where restorative practice, differentiated discipline, and equity are practiced with fidelity. Each day putting students at the center of every opportunity instead of at the center of discipline while focusing on being intentional about building and sustaining relationships with each other, with the students, parents, and the community enforcing a standard that we will be a campus that practices Relationship-Centered Learning.

Written by: D. Bosier

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