Solutions sought to discipline problem

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 4, 2001


LUTCHER – At a time when school districts around the country are struggling to deal with disruptive student behavior, two St. James Parish schools are experimenting with creative solutions to discipline problems. A pilot program was initiated during the 2000-01 school year at Lutcher Junior High School and at Vacherie Elementary School. Pam Bourgeois, acting principal at Lutcher, and Lona Becnel, principal at Vacherie, along with Jim Monismith, a consultant for school improvements, developed the program. “It is successful,” said Janie Vee Henderson, St. James Parish School Board administrative director. “Data presented at the school board meeting showed that by having stiffer consequences than those in the parish policy, students are committing fewer offenses.” Henderson explained that current parish discipline policy recognizes four categories of infractions. Category A, the most serious, deals with grounds for expulsion, such as drugs, weapons, and violent or dangerous acts: hitting or threatening school personnel, fighting or harassing other students. “The principals at Vacherie Elementary and Lutcher Junior High,” she said, “asked for a modification of infractions and consequences for lesser offenses under categories B, C, and D. The modified policy involved offering stiffer consequences for these categories than the ones given by the parish.” The basis of the program was issuing consequences progressive in nature. In order for this to be successful, it is essential to get across to students exactly what the policy requires, and to show them the policy is reasonable and it is applied evenly. The result has been that the program is popular. “Students were consistently able to explain and understand the system. Parents and faculty liked the improved communication,” Bourgeois said. Henderson confirmed the total number of referrals at Lutcher Junior High during the 2000-01 school year was down by 55 percent from the previous year. According to Becnel, the total number of referrals and discipline problems at Vacherie Elementary has decreased by 65.5 percent since the new plan has been in place. “Our students were instructed at the beginning of the school year, and again at midterm, about the actions and consequences,” Becnel said. “Students are aware of the steps of discipline, and they have worked hard to abide by these new rules. The faculty and staff and I feel the policy is fair and consistent. We have just seen a tremendous improvement in the behavior of our students.” In light of such promising results, the administrators are seeking an extension of the program. “I as well as the staff feel that complete implementation of the discipline program for the 2001-02 school year would be a benefit to Lutcher Junior High School,” Bourgeois said. “We are requesting an extension of the pilot program. We feel that the data collected over a two-year period would enhance the system’s ability to evaluate this program accurately, and we are willing to continue working for a program that is fair, consistent, easily understood, and equitable.”