Student discipline issue heats up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 16, 2002


LAPLACE – In the last two months, sheriff’s deputies have made more than 30 arrests on school campuses in St. John the Baptist Parish.

More than 20 of those arrests stemmed from two incidents, causing school officials to scratch their heads over how to deal with the public perception that violence is an increasing problem in some of the local schools.

“If you’re a parent and you read in the newspapers about what’s going on, you know you’re wondering ‘what else can I do?'” said Matthew Ory, a St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member and chairman of the Committee for Pupil Services. “Especially those parents that have no choices like private school or moving to another community.”

Several of the incidents have been at Glade School, causing concern for parents about their own children’s safety.

“Sometimes my girls come home and say, ‘Dad, I don’t want to go back to that school,'” said Daryl Sampson, who as parent of four students at Glade and one of the leaders of Glade’s Parents Help Association (PHA), has not completely lost his faith. “Glade School has been a black eye for the parish. But there is plenty of good there too.”

Sampson works as a relay technician for Entergy. He and his wife, Angela, have looked into private schools like Reserve Christian and he said they “might barely be able to afford” the $1,000 each month it would cost to send their daughters there. But, he added, a little money spent at Glade might go a long way toward stopping the violence.

“The kids are frustrated about what they’re not getting at home,” said Sampson, who will be going to Alexandria next week, along with other PHA members and Glade faculty members, to attend a workshop exploring grant opportunities. “Just helping them with some of their needs like uniforms or lunches might make a difference.”

Thursday afternoon, Ory’s committee held its first of four annual meetings to review the Code of Student Conduct and Attendance as outlined by the handbook students are given. Faculty and principals from several of the schools reviewed the infractions and consequences point by point, trying to ensure consistent interpretations of their procedures and their application.

But revising the discipline guidelines will not have any consequence on the fighting, Ory said, because the schools are only the setting for issues that extend beyond their halls and playgrounds.

“The school are there to educate students. Whatever comes from the community we have to accept. All the violence, anger, abuse that goes on. We can only react to it. We don’t know what’s happening until it comes on campus,” Ory explained.

Principal Perry DeCarlo echoed Ory’s sentiments. DeCarlo’s Glade School became a focal point for school violence when multiple student altercations on campus in March led to several arrests.

“These are community issues that are carried over into the school,” DeCarlo said. “They’ll start at a dance, or a party, or at Wal-Mart. Then school is the only common place for them to meet.”

DeCarlo acknowledged there have been problems at Glade with rivalries between kids from the LaPlace and Reserve communities, but criticized the local media for connecting all the incidents and portraying the hallways and cafeterias at Glade as unsafe.

“It’s not like you walk into the school and fights are going on every day.” said DeCarlo of Tuesday’s arrest of four students. “We knew about the problem between these students weeks ago. We’ve had two conferences with their parents at the school. According to their parents, the problem was finished.”

Ory said DeCarlo has discussed the rivalry issues with him, and he believes the board-approved K-8 configuration plan for East Bank schools will be the best preventative measure the school system could make.

“We’ve changed the consequences every year. We’ve added infractions,” said Ory about the handbook update process. “It did get better. But in the last six months something’s happened and these rivalries are going on.”

The “no-blink” policy for St. John students involved in fights on school campuses is simple – if a student is involved in a fight that causes a battery, he is arrested and expelled. The student is transferred to the Redirection Center to finish out the school year, and then may appeal for reinstatement.

“These are good kids making bad choices,” said Juliet Betts, who became acting principal of the Redirection Center in Reserve in February. “We’re doing our best to deal with these problems one at a time.”

School counselors address conflict and violence as part of the curriculum at the Redirection Center. Yet a number of the kids involved in the most recent fracas at the center that resulted in 10 arrests were there because of what happened at Glade School.

“These children have already been expelled. So they’re already a discipline problem,” said St. John Parish Superintendent Mike Coburn, “My next recourse is to say they’ve already been given a chance and expel them completely.”

Coburn is turning to other parish school systems for fresh ideas. He also suggested that the courts could help impress the gravity of the punishment on the student.

“Not all (expelled) students go before the judge,” said Coburn. “They need to go in there and hear ‘you’re in my court. You don’t open your mouth until I say you do.'”

The matter of expulsion is further complicated by the fact some students who are chronic violators of the “no-blink” policy – including 8 of the 10 arrested this week at the Redirection center – fall under the auspices of Special Education.

Federal law mandates that public schools must provide an education for students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, explained Dr. Diane Brown, the special education director for the parish. In other words, they cannot be completely expelled from the system the way you could expel a student without disabilities. But Brown said even kids with emotional or behavioral disorders are probably no more prone to violence than kids without any disabilities.

“We try to be preventative. To offer positive support for good behavior in schools,” said Brown, who is also contacting outside agencies for input to a problem she admits is perplexing. “We really don’t manage those students well.”

Ory has suggested in conversations with Coburn that perhaps more could be done to emphasize the punishment aspect of the Redirection Center.

From his experience, students and parents sometimes look at the smaller class rooms and consider it a positive for their child’s needs.

“It’s not an alternative for learning. It’s for discipline,” said Ory. “(Students) need to know they need to do things to get out.”

At press time, St. John sheriff’s office spokesman Mike Tregre reported five more arrests stemming from another disturbance at the Redirection Center. Larenzo Porter, 17, of Reserve was charged with disturbing the peace – disruptions of a lawful assembly, along with four minors at 7:35 a.m. Thursday.

Ann LaBorde, school director of personnel, said two girls and three boys between the ages of 13 and 17 were charged.

Two were special education students, but none of them were involved in Tuesday’s altercation. Laborde said the Thursday incident began during the school’s regular uniform check.

“There can’t be any uniform violations, like a shirt untucked or gang-related colors on their shoelaces, for example,” Laborde said. “The kids were resistant to that and they were arrested.”